Former Renault-Nissan boss Carlos Ghosn gestures as he addresses a large crowd of journalists on his reasons for dodging trial in Japan, where he is accused of financial misconduct, at the Lebanese Press Syndicate in Beirut on January 8, 2020.
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Ghosn, during a more than two-hour press conference in Lebanon, said he regrets not entertaining an offer by the Obama administration to become CEO of General Motors in 2009.
“I made mistake. I recognize it today,” Ghosn said as part of his first public comments since his November 2018 arrest in Japan and escape last week to Lebanon. “I should have accepted the offer, but I had my beliefs.”
Obama auto czar Steven Rattner, as detailed in his 2010 book “Overhaul” about the government’s auto industry bailout, asked Ghosn if he would “be interested” in leading America’s largest automaker.
Ghosn said Rattner offered him double his salary to lead GM, however Ghosn was committed to leading the Nissan-Renault Alliance, which in preceding years had separately been in talks with the Detroit automaker as well as then-Chrysler to potentially join the alliance.
Ghosn, who simultaneously led three automakers as part of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, on Wednesday used the example to illustrate why the depiction of him as a “cold, greedy dictator” in the Japanese media was unfair.
“This is not a greedy guy talking. A greedy guy would say, ‘Sorry guys, this is business. I’m going to go for my own interest.'” Ghosn said, adding the offer was “very attractive” but the captain of the ship doesn’t leave the ship” when it’s in need.
Rattner, who was not immediately available for comment, wrote he knew Ghosn’s acceptance of the position was a “long shot” and that he “was not surprised when he deftly demurred.”
Ghosn was awaiting trial in Japan since his November 2018 arrest on charges of financial misconduct and misuse of corporate resources for personal gain when he fled the country last week. He has denied any wrongdoing and said he secretly fled to Lebanon, where he has citizenship, “not to escape justice,” but “injustice.”
During the wide-ranging press conference on Wednesday, Ghosn also mentioned discussions with Fiat Chrysler to join the global auto alliance, including merger talks with Fiat Chrysler Chairman John Elkann.
Those talks, after Ghosn’s arrest, eventually fell apart and Fiat Chrysler finalized its deal last month to merge with French automaker PSA Group, a major competitor of Renault.
“It is unbelievable,” Ghosn said in response to the deal, citing under his leadership the alliance “had a clear vision for the future,” unlike today. “How can you lose that? How can you lose this opportunity to become the dominant player in this industry?”
In June, it was reported a deal between Fiat Chrysler and Renault fell apart due to concerns raised by the French government about the tie-up.