Carlos Ghosn: the charistmatic and transformational leader of Nissan in Japan and Renault in France

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by Kyla Camille |

Carlos Ghosn is widely known as the charistmatic and transformational leader of Nissan in Japan and Renault in France.

Almost mentioned in the same breadth as Lee Iacocca (GM’s former CEO), Ghosn is known to be good motivator and empowers his teams to achieve success. Named CEO of Nissan in 2001, Carlos Ghosn has turned Nissan into one of the world’s most profitable automakers and has expanded aggressively into emerging markets and zero-emission vehicles where it is now a recognized leader.

To the Rescue

Born in Brazil on March 9, 1954 to Lebanese parents, Ghosn finished his early education in Lebanon and moved on to Paris for his higher education. He spent an illustrious career in Michelin where he spent 18 years in Brazil and North America.

In 1999, Carlos Ghosn was sent to Tokyo by France’s Renault SA to rescue its floundering Japanese business partner, Nissan Motor. In several bold moves unseen in Japanese car manufacturing history, Ghosn began his work. He slashed costs, closed unprofitable factories, shrank the supplier network, sold unprofitable assets, and rewired Nissan’s known insular culture. Many automotive insiders thought that Ghosn’s efforts will simply backfire and will not work. They were wrong. Within a year, Ghosn had returned Japan’s second-largest auto manufacturer to profitability and was widely credited with saving it from collapse. Ghosn is now widely known as the CEO who led on of modern corporation’s dramatic turnarounds.

As leader of one of the world’s most profitable companies, Ghosn surged ahead with Nissan aggressively going into emerging markets such as Brazil, China, India, Russia, and Southeast Asia and shifted production of many core models outside Japan. He has invested heavily to develop affordable zero-emission vehicles, including the Nissan LEAF, which was launched in 2010, and a full lineup of Renault electric vehicles.

On the Attack

Natural calamities simply could not stop Carlos Ghosn. In March 2011 the earthquake and tsunami that hit northern Japan disproportionately damaged Nissan, which had to halt production at its biggest engine plant. Then later that year, flooding in Thailand cut supplies for key parts needed at factories around the world. Still, Ghosn was on the attack. His ambitious Power 88 six-year growth plan, committing Nissan to boost global market share and profits to 8 percent by 2016 and claim a 10 percent share of the world’s two largest markets, China and the United States was at the top of his list. Ghosn said, “This is the first time Nissan is starting a plan on the offensive instead of reconstructing something or defending something.”

Juggling three leadership roles as chairman and CEO of Nissan, chairman and CEO of Renault, and chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, he divides his time equally in France, Japan, and Renault-Nissan operations throughout the world. Here are some videos that will inspire future leaders of the car industry and modern corporations:

Video: In this talk, he discusses the different challenges each company faces, and how he adapts his leadership to the strategic and cultural contexts. He also discusses trends in the global auto market, and his vision for zero emission vehicles (electric), which he believes will represent an important (and profitable) market segment in the coming decade. [Recorded: Jan. 11, 2010]

Video: A discussion with Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and CEO, Renault-Nissan Alliance moderated by Professor Robert Burgelman, Stanford Graduate School of Business. [Recorded in April 2013]

Video: During a student-led interview at Stanford Graduate School of Business, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault-Nissan Alliance, discusses his experience leading this global automobile alliance and its subsequent innovations. [Recorded in January 2014]