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The Gaijin Who Saved Nissan

It was a union born of desperation. Back in 1999, Nissan was in a death spiral. The company was carrying massive debts, heavy losses, and a badly damaged brand. Renault was a middling European auto maker with a far-from-inspiring future. So when Renault CEO Louis Schweitzer ponied up $5 billion to buy effective control of Nissan (NSANY ) that year, there was skepticism, to say the least. Industry wags such as Robert Lutz, currently vice-chairman of General Motors Corp. (GM ), publicly stated that Renault might as well have dumped the billions in the Pacific Ocean. Into the breach came Carlos Ghosn, a savage cost-cutter and first-class intellect. But even he gave this salvage job only a 50-50 chance.

Well, today, Nissan is back, no doubt about it. Under Ghosn, now CEO, the company has found its killer instinct. It's turning out great cars and achieving the highest profit margins in the business -- even slightly ahead of Toyota Motor Corp. (TM ) Just how Ghosn managed this is instructively chronicled in Shift: Inside Nissan's Historic Revival, jointly written by Ghosn and French journalist Philippe Riès. Mercifully short on managerial bromides, the compact book offers a trove of practical advice to executives who could find themselves in unfamiliar business cultures with different rules of engagement -- and not much time to sort things out. On the negative side, the authors have little to say about current failings at Nissan, and Ghosn at times seems out of touch -- witness his skepticism on the commercial viability of hybrid cars.