April 18, 2012 2:33 pm

Nippon Glass’s American chief resigns

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The American chief executive of Nippon Sheet Glass has resigned after less than two years in the role, in the latest example of friction between a Japanese company and a non-Japanese executive.

NSG executives said that Craig Naylor had quit due to “fundamental disagreements” with the board over the pace and scale of restructuring needed to revive the debt-laden glassmaker, which next month should present its third annual loss in the past four years.

The departure of Mr Naylor, 63, comes after Michael Woodford was ousted from Olympus and Sir Howard Stringer stepped down from Sony, thus leaving Nissan’s Carlos Ghosn and Brian Prince at Aozora Bank as the only foreigners at the helm of big Japanese companies.

Mr Naylor, a chemist, had joined NSG in May 2010 following a 36-year career with Dupont and a short spell as non-executive director of Delphi, the US car-parts maker, after an eight-month search led by headhunting firm Egon Zehnder. He will be replaced by Keiji Yoshikawa, a 39-year veteran of NSG.

Mr Yoshikawa, who was with Mr Naylor at a cherry blossom viewing event the day before he submitted his resignation, told a press conference that he was taken aback since Mr Naylor had given no indication that he might resign.

“It is unfortunate that [Mr Naylor] wanted to resign over a difference of opinion,” added chairman Katsuji Fujimoto. “The board could have tried to convince him to stay on but … we decided to choose someone who could implement reforms more speedily.”

Mr Naylor could not be reached for comment.

Analysts said Mr Naylor seemed slow to react to a deterioration in NSG’s outlook in the second half of last year, when it was hit by weak demand in its core European construction and auto markets and a low-price offensive by Chinese manufacturers in Asia.

Only in February, when it cut a full-year profit forecast to a loss, did the group announce plans to cut about 12 per cent of its global workforce. “Restructuring was the right idea but it was about six months too late,” said Kei Rameau, an analyst at BNP Paribas in Tokyo.

Last month credit rating agencies docked NSG’s ratings, warning that it faced challenges in improving earnings and cash flow. Gross debt in December was Y380bn compared with equity of Y140bn, giving NSG one of the worst debt/equity ratios among Nikkei 225 companies.

Mr Fujimoto denied that the choice of a Japanese chief executive meant the company was reversing its globalisation efforts. Mr Naylor’s British predecessor, Stuart Chambers, became the company’s first non-Japanese chief in 2008 but resigned a year later blaming strain on his family.

“There are many Japanese these days who have the capability to work globally so I don’t think that simply because we have chosen a Japanese president we are retreating from globalisation,” said Mr Fujimoto.

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