Lutz, who said he’s known Ghosn for a number of years, said the embattled executive suffers from a “god complex” as well as “CEO disease,” where a person believes they are omnipotent and “above the law” because of their power.
“That type of personality does tend to pretty easily slip over the line and do things that the rest of us would not do because they think they’re so important and so well connected and of such vast importance to the economy that no one would ever call them on it,” Lutz, a well-known outspoken automotive icon, said Thursday on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”
Ghosn, who simultaneously led three automakers as part of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance, on Monday secretly fled Japan, where he was under strict house arrest, to Lebanon to escape what he called a “rigged” justice system. Ghosn on Thursday said he alone arranged for his departure out of Japan, refuting media reports that members of his family assisted in the plan.
Ghosn, who is reportedly a citizen of Brazil, France and Lebanon, was awaiting trial after being accused in Japan of financial misconduct and misuse of corporate resources for personal gain. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Lutz said he wasn’t saying Ghosn is “guilty as charged,” however he would be “extremely surprised if this was the result of a carefully planned conspiracy and he was, in fact, totally innocent.”
“He was a control freak; needed to amass enormous power,” Lutz said. “I mean, being an effective CEO of three or four car companies at the same time, since we all, no matter how great we are, we only have 24 hours a day, some of which is devoted to sleep, it’s impossible to really exercise those duties in a good way without really delegating most of it.”
Ghosn, according to Lutz, operated more as “a head of state than a CEO,” citing he was someone who exhibited traits of someone who takes himself too seriously.”
Lutz, who retired after a 47-year career in the auto industry in 2010, also said Ghosn approached GM about joining the alliance, however it was unclear about how the alliance actually operated. Lutz worked at GM from 2001 until May 2010.
“An alliance is not a formal type of business arrangement where you have hard and fast rules on who does what, who shares what and who benefits how,” he said. “General Motors, even though we had serious financial problems at the time, we elected to pass on that one.”
Lutz’s comments followed reports of Lebanon receiving an Interpol arrest warrant on Thursday for Ghosn. A senior Lebanese security official told Reuters it was not yet clear if Ghosn would be summoned for questioning over the warrant but said Lebanon does not extradite its citizens to foreign states.
— CNBC’s Kevin Stankiewicz contributed to this report.