GREENVILLE, S.C.-In a surprise announcement July 30, the managing partners of Group Michelin said Carlos Ghosn-chairman, president and CEO of Michelin North America Inc. since 1990-will leave the tire maker at the end of September for a job at another company. Neither he nor Michelin executives would identify the company he will join, or in what capacity. But Mr. Ghosn said he and his new employer will make a joint announcement the first week of September.
Michelin spokesman Jim Morton said Mr. Ghosn ``was offered an excellent opportunity which he has chosen to accept.''
The company has appointed James M. Micali, 48, to succeed Mr. Ghosn as chairman and president of Michelin North America. An executive vice president of Michelin N.A. since 1990, Mr. Micali also has been head of Group Michelin's North and Central American Geographic Area since February, and is a member of the company's College of Directors.
An attorney, Mr. Micali practiced law in Providence, R.I., prior to joining Michelin in 1977. He served in legal counsel positions in the U.S. and France before becoming general counsel of Michelin N.A. in 1985.
Mr. Ghosn, a soft-spoken, 42-year-old Paris-educated executive, who has held numerous positions worldwide with the tire company since joining it in 1977, will assist Greenville-based Michelin N.A. during the transitional period.
Mr. Morton, who discounted the possibility of friction between Mr. Ghosn and the French parent company, said he did not know if Mr. Ghosn has a non-compete clause in his contract with Michelin, though that is often the case with top executives-and would mean the company he's going to is not in the tire industry.
In January, in addition to duties as Michelin N.A.'s chief executive, Mr. Ghosn was appointed a member of Michelin's nine-member Group Executive Council, which assists the managing partners in leading the organization. He also was named head of Michelin's worldwide passenger and light truck tire business, the largest operation in the Group.
Replacing him in the last capacity, effective Sept. 2, is Herve Coyco, another member of Michelin's Group Executive Council. Philippe Guillemot will fill Mr. Ghosn's position on the Group Executive Council and will oversee quality, organizational studies and information processes.
Admitting Mr. Ghosn's announcement caught even Michelin employees by surprise, Mr. Morton said the company nonetheless anticipates ``no loss of momentum, nor will it mean a change of direction'' for the tire maker, which earlier this year initiated a group-wide reorganization.
During Mr. Ghosn's tenure, Michelin N.A. acquired Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. in 1990, then set about integrating the two similar-sized operations.
Mr. Ghosn is credited with streamlining the U.S. subsidiary, closing two of the oldest U.G. Tire plants and slashing 2,500 management and labor positions. These moves brought Michelin N.A. to break-even status in 1994 and back into the black last year.
Last November, he spearheaded plans to invest a minimum of $500 million over five years to boost Michelin's capacity at its three South Carolina plants and build an off-the-road tire factory there.
News of Mr. Ghosn's pending departure came as a shock to most industry observers. ``I'm surprised. I had no inkling of this at all,'' said Harry Millis, an analyst with Cleveland-based Fundamental Research Inc. ``I think it's a loss for Michelin. He's a very capable guy.''
Mr. Millis said Mr. Ghosn likely is ``going to a significant international company as either a No. 1 or a No. 2. And if it's a No. 2 position, it's with the promise of becoming CEO in a short period of time. But what company? I don't know.''