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Experience, not nationality, key for new CEO at France's Renault: minister

PARIS (Reuters) - Experience in overhauling a company and a track record in industry will be more important than nationality when carmaker Renault RENA.PA chooses a new chief executive, France's junior economy minister said on Tuesday.

French Junior Economy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher poses after an interview with Reuters in Paris, France, October 15, 2019. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

Renault, in which the French government owns a 15% stake, last week kicked off the search for a new leader after ousting CEO Thierry Bollore, hoping new blood will help it repair relations and strengthen a partnership with Japan's Nissan 7201.T, which has also switched top managers.

The French state, with a boardroom vote on Bollore’s successor, is open to casting the net wide, junior minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Reuters.

“When we had to find the best profile for someone to lead Air France, we got someone who is not French - very well,” said Pannier-Runacher, referring to ex-Air Canada boss Ben Smith’s appointment last year at the airline, in which Paris also holds a stake.

“It’s the best profile that counts here, someone that is able to carry Renault and to play their role in the alliance (with Nissan) at a time of major changes.”

Car companies globally are grappling with slowing auto markets and challenging European emissions regulations, and need to invest in costly new technologies.

Renault hired Chairman Jean-Dominique Senard earlier this year from tyre maker Michelin, after former Nissan-Renault alliance supremo Carlos Ghosn’s arrest in Tokyo on financial misconduct allegations, which he denies.

Senard now has a mandate to get the strained partnership back on track.

Internal Renault candidates with a real shot at the CEO job are likely to be scarce, according to a source close to the recruitment process.

“The successor will probably be an external candidate, as Ghosn did not prepare anything and left scorched earth behind,” the source said.

Another person familiar with the process said Renault had some promising people in their 50s at management committee level, but few with enough experience in top executive circles.


Bollore, who was one of Ghosn’s few protegees propelled to a senior job, hit out last week at his dismissal, calling it a “coup de force” in a newspaper interview.

Pannier-Runacher backed Senard’s bid to renew Renault’s management, however.

“You’ve got a new boss who comes on board, who readjusts and aligns his team, it’s a very basic step and it’s a good thing,” Pannier-Runacher said. “(Senard) is doing his job, full stop.”

The junior minister also said Paris was not against a potential revival of a failed deal to pair Renault up with Fiat Chrysler FCHA.MI, which withdrew a merger offer earlier this year.

“Everything is open. (But) in the order of things, we’re very clear, we want an industrial project and a reinforced alliance that is serving that industrial project,” she said.

Reducing the government’s Renault stake in order to smooth things over with Nissan was not a priority, Pannier-Runacher added.

“You have to start with the industrial logic, and then you can potentially draw knock-on conclusions for stakeholders,” she said.

Reporting by Mathieu Rosemain, Sarah White and Gilles Guillaume; Editing by Mark Potter