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What do a CEO and a cannibal have in common?

The Manila Times logo The Manila Times 1/13/2020 Rey Elbo

(Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.)

CARLOS Ghosn is known globally as an extraordinary chief executive officer (CEO) for saving Nissan from bankruptcy, and zoomed to fame and fortune until he was accused of financial wrongdoing, detained, bailed out and surfaced mysteriously in Lebanon despite his 24/7 house arrest in Tokyo. But who is Issei Sagawa? He’s none other than the self-confessed Japanese cannibal who raped and ate the remains of a young Dutch woman whom he shot to death in his Paris apartment in 1981.

So, what could Ghosn (b. 1954) and Sagawa (b. 1949) have in common: There are seven interesting facts: One, both were accused of different illegal activities but are now roaming freely. Two, they were detained during their respective pre-trials. Three, they are both straight guys. Ghosn has two wives, while Sagawa has an insatiable appetite for women, preferably of the European variety.

Four, both were welcomed with open arms when they went back to their native country — Ghosn in Lebanon and Sagawa in Japan. Five, they remain controversial even after their regaining their freedom. Six, both are relatively diminutive. Ghosn is 1.7 meters tall while Sagawa is shorter at 1.45 meters.

And last, both cannot be extradited to the country where their alleged crimes were committed because Lebanon has no extradition treaty with Japan. While Sagawa was voluntarily sent back to Japan by France that doesn’t want to spend public money for his lifetime incarceration. Now, let’s backtrack a bit to understand their respective stories.

Ghosn: from hero to (almost) zero

In 1999, Ghosn was brought to Japan by Renault when the two companies agreed to a major strategic alliance in which the French carmaker assumed $5.4 billion of Nissan’s debt in return for a 36.6-percent equity stake. After only one year, Ghosn became an instant hero for lifting the automaker out of peril and back to profitability.

In 2000, Nissan announced a record-breaking group net profit of Y331 billion compared to the previous year’s net loss of Y685 billion, paving the way for Ghosn to becoming a “poster-boy for corporate restructuring” in and out of Japan.

What were Ghosn’s reversal strategies? It’s a classic case between Western-style of management vs Japanese traditional way of doing business. “Adhering to cultural norms is not always the right strategy,” according to Ghosn in an article by Bill Snyder for Stanford Business. Ghosn declared that had he followed the Japanese style of doing business, he will still fail.

“You cannot shut down a plant in Japan. You cannot dismantle the carry-through in Japan.

You cannot challenge the seniority system in Japan. You cannot put younger people in top jobs in Japan. I mean, the list of what you cannot do was huge,” Ghosn said. In 2010, Ghosn made further inroads when he declared English as the official language of Nissan, making their Japanese workers and managers scramble to learn the language.

Interestingly, Honda followed suit by making English as its corporate lingua franca at the start of 2020.

In addition, Ghosn removed redundant jobs, dismantled the keiretsu — a system promoting a web of parts suppliers with interlocking executives and board directors from Nissan.

These changes and more turned trusted executives and aides as one silent, working underground but formidable enemy of Ghosn. This happened even when Ghosn remained popular and even described by Bloomberg as “a superhero” in Japan “who was celebrated from boardrooms to manga.”

That’s prior to his ouster as head of the Nissan-Renault-Mitsubishi alliance in 2019 when he was accused of financial misconduct, incarcerated by Japanese authorities, released from jail in exchange for a 24/7 monitored house arrest under a $4.5-million bail with a strict condition he can’t leave Japan, until he shocked everyone when he jumped bail last Dec. 30, 2019 and resurfaced mysteriously in his native Lebanon where he is welcomed days after his arrival by brightly lit billboards in Beirut with his face and the slogan “We Are All Carlos Ghosn.”

Sagawa: from cannibal to celebrity

When he was in first grade, Sagawa displayed an unusual sexual desire when he saw a male thigh, which was also sparked bestiality with his dog and “experienced cannibalistic desires for women.” At age 24, he broke into the Tokyo house of a tall German voluptuous woman who overpowered him resulting in his being charged with attempted rape, according to his interview with Vice Magazine.

Fast forward to 1981, then Ph.D. literature student Sagawa, 32 invited 25-year old Renee Hartevelt, a Dutch national and his Sorbonne university classmate, for a sukiyaki (hot pot) dinner at his Paris apartment under the pretext of asking her help in doing an assignment.

While the young woman was seated reviewing the homework, her back became an easy target for Sagawa who shot her dead with a rifle.

Sagawa fainted for a while for the impact of what he did but soon awakened to rape Hartevelt’s corpse and ate parts of her body, eating most from her breasts, face and private part. He took photographs of Hartevelt’s remains and refrigerated the rest. Soon, he packed parts of the corpse in two suitcases and traveled by taxi to dump the remains in a lake near Bois de Boulogne where a couple found the remains and reported the matter to the police.

Within two days, Sagawa was caught by the police and was defended by an expensive lawyer who was hired by his wealthy parents. After two years of being a prisoner, the court found him legally insane and cannot be tried legally. Instead, he was confined in a mental institution.

Despite being imprisoned, Sagawa became a “cannibal celebrity” after a series of publications that made him quite “famous.” Thanks to many competing publishers. This also prompted the French authorities to deport him to Japan where he was committed to a hospital that found him sane enough to stand trial contrary to the findings of French psychologists. Because charges in France had been dropped and the case declared closed, and the records of the case cannot be sent to Japan. This prompted hospital authorities to release Sagawa as it is illegal for them to detain him further.

He was released in 1986 and remains free since then while enjoying relative fame and fortune as an author, magazine columnist, novelist, restaurant reviewer, and television commentator. He even starred in a cooking show where he made a meal of meat dishes and as “a porn star invited to chew on the buttocks of his female co-star.”


As they say it in basketball — “the ball is round.” You’ll never know how long you’ll stay on top or get trampled upon overnight. Winners can be losers and vice-versa. Winners and losers have contrasting values: Winners would say it may be difficult, but it is possible. On the other hand, losers would say it is possible but may be difficult. But the most important thing to understand in life is “winners make it happen, while losers let it happen.” And when losers get the chance, you’ll never know where to hide.

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or via

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