The stickiest issue was always Mr. Ghosn’s pay.
In Japan, salarymen slave away at the kaisha (or company) with a sense of communal pride almost as important as the salary. Last year, Mr. Ghosn made $16.9 million ($8.4 million from Renault, $6.5 million from Nissan and $2 million from Mitsubishi). That’s nearly 11 times what the chairman of Toyota, the world’s largest carmaker, earns but well below the $21.96 million paid to Mary Barra, the chief executive of General Motors.
In 2008, the same year that Japanese law began requiring companies to disclose directors’ pay in their annual reports, Nissan’s shareholders voted to set an annual cap of about $27 million on compensation for all board directors combined.
After that, Mr. Ghosn made the case to the public that he was underpaid — instructing Nissan to hand out background materials reminding investors and the news media that he made significantly less than his counterparts at other global automakers.
At the company’s most recent annual meeting, in June, Mr. Ghosn stressed to shareholders that the company’s compensation policy was “designed to reward performance and to attract, promote and retain the best management talent in the auto industry.” He added that while Nissan tried to reward senior management “competitively,” the company remained “financially very disciplined.”
Asked by the Financial Times that same month if he was overpaid, Mr. Ghosn laughed. “You won’t have any C.E.O. say, ‘I’m overly compensated,’” he said.
Such brazenness rankled employees and the public in Japan.
“Even when a company is a global multinational company, it’s still stamped by its country of origin and the place where it has its headquarters,” said Sanford M. Jacoby, a professor of management at the University of California, Los Angeles, who has studied Japanese corporate culture. The Japanese, he said, put more weight “on egalitarian policies of government and pay and other things.”
In France, where the government owns a 15 percent stake in Renault, shareholders have also taken issue with Mr. Ghosn’s pay. “We believe that anyone making 240 times more than the minimum pay of his employees is out of control,” said Pierre-Henri Leroy, the head of Proxinvest, a French shareholder advisory group.