Carlos Ghosn on Nomads and Leadership

Study the competition – that seems like a common sense rule when it comes to marketing a business, no matter the size.  Yet it is always amazing to discover where the giants ignore the basic rules.

Consider the auto industry. I grew up in a prosperous Detroit back when General Motors was the greatest corporation in the world. It was with great pain that I watched the inner-city burn and the population flee following the race riots in the late 60’s. The central city has never recovered because its fate has been so linked to the troubled American auto industry.

I had an opportunity recently to get some unique observations from the competition on why the Detroit auto industry was doomed to flame out so spectacularly and destroy the local economy.

Carlos Ghosn, the Chairman and CEO of Renault Nissan Alliance spoke at the French Institute on how his successful career has been shaped by his global outlook.  Ghosn was born in Brazil, of French and Lebanese heritage. His education was in France and his early career was forged at Michelin, a French company.  In the late 90’s he was able to step in and turn around a troubled Nissan Corporation.  Ghosn explained that because he had a nomadic upbringing and was not rooted in one place, he was also not stuck in the mind-frame of one culture. He felt he was able to successfully lead a Japanese company because they also had no preconceived biases against him. Yet as an outsider, he could more readily see their mistakes.

So why, he was asked, did the Japanese eventually overtake the Americans in their trademark industry?  Simple, he replied – the Japanese studied the American competition closely, but the American automakers did not study their Japanese competitors or even seem to realize they should be worried about their strategies until it was too late.  Constantly analyze and learn from your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses, Ghosn warned.

As I watch the American automobile industry rebuild, I hope this is one mistake they have learned and are not destined to repeat.

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