Business Week’s Brian Bremner, who wrote the book on Hello Kitty, has a decent profile of Carlos Ghosn, who is struggling with the pressures of the comeback of Nissan. It is a compelling story to read about Ghosn and the challenges he faced. Not taking away anything from his accomplishments, it is important to remember that he truly had a “burning platform” (i.e. Nissan was one step away from bankruptcy) and the support of the shareholders (Renault.)
As turnarounds go, the Nissan saga is in a class by itself. In 1999 the company was straining under $19 billion in debt and shedding market share in both Japan and the U.S. Ghosn was also being undermined by Nissan insiders who wanted his reforms to fail. So when he was about to announce the closing of five factories, he didn’t tell his own board of directors until the night before, recalls Jason Vines, who served as Nissan’s North American public-relations chief early in Ghosn’s tenure and now heads PR for Chrysler Group. And to ensure those in the know wouldn’t spill the beans, Ghosn threatened: “‘If this leaks out, I’ll close seven plants, not five,”‘ Vines says. That boldness — and the factory shutdowns — led to menacing hate mail, and Ghosn began to travel with a bodyguard.
These days, though, Ghosn is more hero than target. Last year, Nissan reported profits of $4.6 billion on $68 billion in revenues, up 8%. It looks set to boost earnings by another 6% and sales by 9% this year, brokerage Morgan Stanley (MWD) says. Nissan’s $49.7 billion market capitalization is the second biggest in the industry, after Toyota’s (TM ). It has overtaken Honda as No. 2 inside Japan. And Nissan leads the global pack in operating margins (11.1%).
BW Online | Nissan’s Boss
Then there is a decent Q&A with Ghosn in the same issue:
Q: Despite being a foreign CEO in Japan, you have managed to gain the trust of Nissan’s largely Japanese workforce. How did you bridge the cultural barrier?
A: It’s interesting to see how human beings handle difference. People have always had problems about what is different from them. Different religion, different race, different color, different sex, different age, different training — human beings have always had a challenge confronting what is different.
Now, we come to the basic acknowledgement that you feel more secure with somebody who is like you. You feel more comfortable, you feel more secure. You feel insecure with someone who is different from you. You feel more insecure with a woman, or someone who is younger than you, or older than you, or a foreigner.
But I recognize that even if someone is different, I’m going to learn a lot. We have a tendency to reject what is different. And at the same time, we need what is different. Because what is different is the only way we can grow by confronting ourselves.
As you know, I was born in Brazil, I spent some time in schools in Lebanon, and I went back to France for my graduation. But I have been confronted by change all my life. I changed friends, I changed schools. You start to understand that [while] it’s unpleasant, it’s also enriching. That’s what I want to tell you. Going to another country and confronting another culture, I don’t feel any anxiety about that. I feel curiosity, I feel interest.
Why? Because I have already spent a lot of time in my life worrying about anxiety and I have overcome it. But I still understand people who are confronting difference for the first time. When my kids change schools, they don’t like it. But at the same time, I understand that this will make them stronger.
For me, in management you learn independently of ranking, independently of IQ, and independently of age. You witness different situations. Whenever you understand how much difficulty is behind the situation, then you appreciate people and what they do independently of who they are.