Economy, Auto

Iran-Born Renault VP’s Formidable Forte

Iran-Born Renault VP’s Formidable ForteIran-Born Renault VP’s Formidable Forte

Renault’s Mouna Sepehri, the top-ranking woman in Europe’s auto industry, sees transactions such as partner Nissan Motor’s purchase of a $2.3 billion stake in Mitsubishi Motors as adding much-needed bulk.

“Size matters because of economies of scale,” Sepehri said during a recent interview at Renault’s headquarters near Paris.

Along with General Motors CEO Mary Barra and Annette Winkler, the head of Daimler’s Smart brand, Sepehri is among only a handful of women to have made it to the top echelons of a largely male-dominated industry, Automotive News Europe reported.

As executive vice president at Renault, Sepehri has been a key adviser to Renault-Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn since 2005.

For the 53-year-old lawyer specialized in mergers and acquisitions, the consolidation trend will only accelerate as carmakers seek to share the high costs of developing electric or energy-efficient vehicles and incorporate intelligent technologies, including driver-less vehicles.

“In five to 10 years, we will have giants, but that’s not just for the automotive industry; it’s a global phenomenon,” she said. “Smaller companies will end up combining with bigger ones, except for those which have a niche market.”

Sepehri knows what she’s talking about. She helped Renault to buy Dacia in 1999 and Samsung Motors in 2000. She also contributed to the shaping of Renault’s partnership with Nissan.

In 2010, she managed the negotiations of the alliance with Daimler over a production partnership.

Sepehri was named one of Automotive News Europe’s leading women executives in 2016.

Ghosn has promised that the Renault-Nissan alliance will break into the top three in global vehicle sales by as early as 2018.

In 2015, Renault-Nissan sold about 8.5 million vehicles, ranking fourth in the world behind Volkswagen Group and Toyota and General Motors, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Nissan’s Mitsubishi deal will give the group a serious boost, as Mitsubishi and Nissan have agreed to share plug-in hybrid and autonomous-driving technology.

“The automotive industry is a long-haul one,” Sepehri said. “Only a few regions in the world have been able to retain their automotive industry.”

In addition to advising Ghosn, Sepehri helps with communications, relations with governments, legal affairs, general services, corporate social responsibility and the Renault Foundation.

Sepehri was key to the smoothing of relations following an eight-month dispute over increased French state influence on the Renault-Nissan alliance last year, earning her words of praise from French former economy minister, Emmanuel Macron.

The Iran-born executive, who moved to France with her parents at the age of 12, says her dual-cultural upbringing has helped her during delicate negotiations, especially with the Japanese on relations between Renault and Nissan.

“Trust had to be built and nurtured,” she said.

For all that, the alliance is far from a model of corporate harmony, with an imbalanced cross shareholding prompting rumblings of dissatisfaction from the Japanese.

Helping manage Renault’s links with its alliance partners may present Sepehri with the kind of challenge she relishes.

“It’s a line of conduct that always served me well: doing my job, doing it well, proving my added value, never losing my temper,” she said. “It works everywhere.”


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