The Times called him ‘the ultimate hybrid’, which sounds rather strange and robotic until you remember that this man does run two of the biggest car manufacturers in the world, Nissan and Renault. But to me he is a cross-cultural wizard. Who am I talking about? Carlos Ghosn, of course!
So am I just adding to the column inches of all the journalists and even market analysts who have fallen under his spell, even if they don’t quite fall in love with the first mass-market electric car, the Nissan Leaf? Well, I think he is a remarkable example of that new breed of ‘global leader’ and we are going to need many more of those in the future.
Born in Brazil to a French mother and Lebanese father, he spent part of his childhood in Lebanon, then went to study in Paris and started his working life as a trainee at Michelin. I remember when he took over as president of Nissan in 2000, my Japanese contacts (and many others) were predicting failure. There was no way Nissan would accept to play second fiddle to Ghosn’s Renault responsibilities and loyalties. But ten years later, he has surprised them all.
He has managed to avoid a full merger of the two companies, and I do genuinely believe that is not because it wouldn’t be good for the stock price or market share or marketing strategies. Because it might well benefit all of those, at least in the short term. But I think he has listened to his employees and understood the different cultures and the strong sense of identity that each company has. There is no point in creating synergy by enforcing sameness. Instead he shares his time, but I believe above all his listening skills and his enthusiasm, very skillfully between the two companies, navigating easily between the two national and corporate cultures and even languages. He learnt Japanese, which is by no means an easy language, quite late in life.
What other examples of such leaders can you think of? Not many. I am hopeful, however, that the younger generation will think Ghosn’s trajectory is not exceptional, but the norm.