Thursday, February 06, 2003

The Telegraph - Nissan man

The most famous and one of the great automobile managers in recent times - Carlos Ghosn - of Nissan.

"Such is Carlos Ghosn's reputation that analysts once joked that he could write his own pay cheque if he ever defected to the troubled Ford Motor Company. The billion-dollar boost to Ford's stock price that heralded his arrival would more than cover his remuneration. In Japan, where business leaders are revered, Ghosn is the subject of a Manga cartoon comic: The True Life Of Carlos Ghosn, a series that sold more than half a million copies per issue. He's even had a book written about him: TURNAROUND - How Carlos Ghosn Rescued Nissan, by David Magee. This is hagiography, and by the time you've read through all 240 pages you'd think Ghosn could turn base metal into gold. It does his burgeoning reputation no harm, however.

How different it all was on October 19 1999, just seven months after Renault had taken a $56.4 billion (£34.3 billion), 36.8 per cent stake in the seemingly doomed Nissan company. The once high-flying Japanese car maker's stock was about to be reduced to junk bond status, its domestic sales share had fallen from 34 per cent in 1974 to just 19 per cent in 1999 and it was $22 billion (£13.5 billion) in debt."

The results of Ghosn's revival plan are undeniable, however, and are now automotive legend. Operating costs slashed by one trillion yen (£5.2 billion), the number of suppliers halved, purchasing costs cut by more than 20 per cent, rising profits - $2.98 billion net (£1.82 billion) in 2001, up from a $5.7 billion (£3.42 billion) loss in 1999 - and debt cut to $3.48 billion (£2.21 billion); all a year earlier than planned

The remarkable thing about all this is that Ghosn has done it all before, albeit on a smaller scale. At Michelin in Brazil and America, and then at Renault, this 58-year-old, Brazilian-born father of four has effected remarkable turnarounds with his evolving strategy of cross-functional teams, aggressive but precise targets, fact-based evaluation and empowerment of middle management. If his tactics of listening carefully, eschewing vagueness, working fast and improving transparency and communication across the company looks like common sense, it's the sort of common sense that is only referred to as common sense when someone's done it before.


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