Carlos Ghosn, the troubleshooter charged with reviving Nissan Motor Co. (NSANY), likes to be called the "Icebreaker." It's a nickname he got from DaimlerChrysler Chairman Jurgen E. Schrempp for his skill at ignoring local business practices that stand in the way of making money. The 46-year-old Brazilian-born Ghosn has worked in turnaround situations at Renault in France and at Michelin's U.S. operations. He moved to Nissan in Japan in 1999 and has vowed to quit if the auto maker isn't profitable by March.
His so-called Nissan Revival seems to be working. But Ghosn is definitely an iconoclast. He passes up power breakfasts to stay home and eat with his four kids. He defies Japanese business etiquette and shakes hands with every employee he meets, not just top managers. And he has cut thousands of Nissan jobs, shut the first of five domestic plants, and auctioned off prized assets such as Nissan's aerospace unit. Result? Nissan was in the black for the six months ended in September and expects record profits of $2.3 billion for fiscal 2001.
But his radical moves have made him Public Enemy No. 1 to Japanese traditionalists, not to mention the influential Japan Auto Parts Industries Assn., which has publicly rebuked Nissan's new management. When Ghosn skipped a New Year's party hosted by Nissan's own parts suppliers, it was considered a sign of bad faith. That was "a good lesson," says a chastened Ghosn, who vows to attend the 2001 party.
If the Icebreaker succeeds in restoring Nissan's health, industry talk is that he may return to Renault as its boss. Then he can breach French etiquette.