Throughout his illustrious career in the automotive industry the character and personality of Brazilian-born Carlos Ghosn have attracted epithets like iron fragments to a magnet: le cost cutter, the turnaround king, super- gaijin (foreigner), keiretsu killer ( keiretsu designating in Japan traditional, confining alliances between parts vendors and buyers), emblem of transparency, and more. Ghosn, named Man of the Year by Automobile Magazine in 2002, became an international business celebrity when he rescued the Nissan Motor Company from almost certain collapse.
When Ghosn moved from carmaker Renault to Nissan the French company already owned a 38 percent stake in Nissan. But in 1999 the Japanese firm looked ripe for extinction. For seven of the eight years before Ghosn took over in Japan, Nissan had lost money, and for 26 consecutive years the company had seen market share dwindle. Ghosn, who threatened to quit if the company did not show a profit by the year 2000, created a dramatic turnaround in less than a year. In the six months preceding September 2000 Nissan released its best six-month profit report in ten years, better than that of bigger competitors Honda and Toyota.
How did the Western oriented businessman do it He faced tough opposition and charges of ignoring traditional Japanese taboos, but through diplomacy, persistence, and speed, Carlos Ghosn brought radical changes into the conservative Japanese company. In October 1999 he proposed drastic cuts in parts purchases, reductions in the number of suppliers, lowering the percentage of stakes in affiliates, closing five domestic plants, and eliminating some 21,000 jobs world-wide. He hired new designers and based promotions on merit rather than age and rank. Early adversaries, soon won over by the realization that extreme measures were needed to keep the company afloat, adjusted to job cuts through Ghosn's strategies of gradual attrition, early retirement, and replacement of top-down management with cross-functional teams bringing managers, executives, and workers together from different sections of the company and different regions of the world.
Born in Brazil of Lebanese descent, Carlos Ghosn was educated in Paris. He earned an engineering degree at the Ecole Polytechnique and a graduate degree from the Ecole des Mines. Upon graduation in 1978 he joined the Michelin Tire Company and over the years rose to be chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Michelin North America from 1990 to 1996. En route to the top, Ghosn held a variety of posts in French manufacturing plants and the company's development center. He became plant manager, head of research and development, and then for four years was chief operating officer of Michelin South America. In his final Michelin position as president and chief executive officer in North America, he restructured North American operations.
Called to Renault SA in 1996, he served as executive vice president in charge of general management involved in research, vehicle engineering and development, power train operations, purchasing, manufacturing, and the MERCOSUR business unit in Latin America until 1999, when he moved to Nissan. He was chief operating officer and president until 2001, when he took over his current position as president, chief executive officer, and director of Nissan Motor Company, Ltd.
This year a biography by David Magee, Turnaround: How Carlos Ghosn Rescued Nissan, was published by Harper Collins.
In March of this year, Ghosn, an ardent sports car fan, launched the European version of Nissan's new sports car at the Geneva Motor Show. Released earlier in Japan and North America, the car has won top prizes around the world. It is the fourth new Nissan passenger car to be launched in 18 months. The many accolades reflect the attractive design image of the bright new Nissan.
In March Business Week Magazine reported that Carlos Ghosn is slated to leave Japan in 2005 to take over as CEO of Nissan's controlling shareholder, Renault, while continuing as CEO of Nissan.