Shift - Inside Nissan's Historic Revival



Book Authors: Carlos Ghon

Book Review by : S.S.George
Director, ICMR (IBS Center for Management Research)


turnaround, matter-of-fact style, Japanese automaker, Japanese carmaker, bankruptcy, automobile manufacturer, Ecole Polytechnique

The turnaround of Nissan has been described as one of the greatest turnarounds of the twentieth century. In Shift - Inside Nissan's Historic Revival, in an unassuming, matter-of-fact style, Carlos Ghosn, the man credited with reviving the fortunes of the ailing Japanese automaker, describes how he managed to achieve a feat which many people thought was impossible.

Carlos Ghosn has been hailed as one of the greatest managers of the 20th century, for having masterminded the astonishing turnaround of Nissan, the troubled Japanese carmaker. This achievement has been considered extraordinary for several reasons: One, Ghosn was the first foreigner to be the CEO of a Japanese company of the size and stature of Nissan.

Two, not only did he turn the finances and performance of the company around, he did so very quickly. Three, and most importantly, he did not just rescue Nissan from bankruptcy - he transformed the company so completely that today, Nissan is one of the most profitable, and most admired automobile manufacturers in the world. Ghosn is in the news again, this time for taking on the challenge of being the CEO of two companies, separated by 6000 miles, several time zones, and a vast gulf of language and cultural differences. In addition to being the CEO of Nissan, he will also be the CEO of Renault. Even for a man of Ghosn's brilliance and ability, managing two companies operating in such an intensely competitive industry as the automobile industry will be no easy task.

However, after reading Shift - Inside Nissan's Historic Revival, one comes away with the feeling that if anyone can pull off such a feat, it is Carlos Ghosn. The book, written with Phillippe Ries, relates Ghosn's experiences in business, first with Michelin in France, Brazil, and the United States, and then with Renault, from where he was chosen to head Nissan, the ailing Japanese automobile manufacturer that had entered into an alliance with Renault. Written in a very matter of fact style, there is very little about his personal life in the book. We get to know almost nothing about Carlos Ghosn the man, but we do get to know Ghosn the business man, who comes across as an essentially decent individual.

Ghosn was born in Brazil, to Lebanese Maronite Christian parents. His father was a well-to-do business man, and by all accounts, young Ghosn had an idyllic, happy childhood. While his father remained in Brazil to look after his business, the family moved back to Lebanon when Ghosn was just two years old.

He went to school in Lebanon, where he was a bright but mischievous child. After completing his schooling, Ghosn went to Paris, to eventually join the Ecole Polytechnique, and then go on to the Ecole des Mines, a graduate school for mining studies. He had a truly multicultural upbringing and education, which proved to be one of his greatest strengths in his later career in business.

On graduation from the Ecole des Mines, Ghosn was recruited by Michelin. He was to spend 18 years with Michelin, first in France, then in Brazil, and finally in the United States. Early in his career, he gained a reputation as an effective manager, and one who could be counted on to turnaround troubled businesses. In fact, many of his assignments involved just this, and provided him with insights and experiences which would later help him deal with the problem of turning around Nissan. His abilities were also well rewarded, as he rose rapidly through the ranks at Michelin.

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