Renault’s Driver Issues

A driver can have two cars, but a car cannot have two drivers. This must have been the case at Renault, a leading French carmaker – when Carlos Tavares, Renault’s COO, declared himself as CEO ready.

In case you missed the story, last August in an interview with Bloomberg, Tavares was quoted saying: “My experience would be good for any car company. Why not GM? I would be honored to lead a company like GM.” Understandably, the people of Renault were disappointed with Tavares’ remarks; after all, if your leader publicly declared that he’d rather be at GM, motivating his team would now become a problem.

Renault's Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares

Renault’s Carlos Ghosn and Carlos Tavares

That’s for the obvious part. We now go to the real issue.

Leadership and Culture

First, answer the questions. How long has Tavares been with Renault? Did he just sit at his desk or, did he accomplish something significant and of his own strategizing for Renault? See, many leaders are said to accomplish something but are actually just beneficiaries of a predecessor’s plan. Next, isn’t it that Carlos Ghosn (Renault’s CEO) is also the CEO of their alliance partner Nissan Motor Company? So?

From the way things are, Renault has succession and communications’ issues.

Interestingly, Ghosn holds “two” top posts while a capable talent like Tavares holds none. Look. Isn’t Tavares the man who worked with design chief Laurens van den Acker in the successful launching of Clio and Renault’s electric vehicles? The ground-breaking deal with French unions? The increase in core earnings in the first half in spite of decreasing sales?

Ambitious people are capable people, at least, generally – this is something Renault missed when they judged Tavares’ interview statement yet in a sort of shallow manner.

Okay, Tavares was wrong to have said those words in public. And because “his people” misunderstood his ambitions for disloyalty, and which greatly affected their trust – it makes sense that they part ways rather than have “intoxicated” drivers jockeying for the steering wheel. As a Leader, Tavares should have considered the effect on his people before firing at management. Serious indeed.

This brings us to the roots of this mess – Communications.

Why didn’t they just talk it over in board meetings or in private? Could the hunches of Tavares have basis? That Ghosn would take forever as the French carmakers’ chief executive? Isn’t there any succession plan? It’s easy for Ghosn to say that if not for Tavares’ public comments, he would have eventually succeeded him. Clearly, there’s a breakdown of communications within the company. And this is where the people of Renault should actually be dismayed of, more than the Bloomberg interview of Carlos Tavares.

Incidentally, almost 3 weeks ago, Renault promoted Thierry Bollore and Jerome Stoll to newly created positions in hope of patching the vacuum left behind by Tavares. So…

What’s your take?