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Renault and Nissan will still roll after Ghosn steps aside

Carlos Ghosn, the car industry executive, is now in his sixties. It is time, he decided, to start taking off some of the many hats he is wearing. He is both Chairman and CEO of French carmaker Renault as well as Nissan and Mitsubishi, its Japanese peers. But now he is handing over Nissan’s keys to his co-CEO Hiroto Saikawa in April. Mr. Ghosn will stay on as Nissan chairman and will focus on strengthening the three carmakers’ alliance.

As the move was unexpected, the industry reacted with concern. It should not. Mr. Ghosn groomed Mr. Saikawa for years, since the latter overhauled procurement at Nissan, improving efficiencies.

Branded “Le Cost Killer” at Renault, he moved on to turn around Nissan (and now, Mitsubishi, the long struggling Japanese carmaker). Like great leaders, Mr. Ghosn made delegating a key to his management style. That, and hard work. As he said in an interview some five years ago, he worked “like a beast” since he became the CEO of Renault at the age of 45. And the left pocket in his shirt did not know what there was inside the right pocket. As soon as he got onto a plane from Paris to Tokyo, he stopped thinking about Renault and his mind would be on Nissan.

Since his childhood in his Brazilian birthplace not far from the border with Bolivia, he was into cars. Legend has it that at the age of 4 he could tell the make of cars by the sound of the horns.

Lucky Mr. Ghosn grew up in a world where there was more freedom of movement for people. The grandson of Lebanese immigrants on his father’s side who had settled in Brazil, his mother was born in Nigeria, also to Lebanese parents. When Mr. Ghosn was little, he became ill after drinking contaminated water and his mother took him to Rio de Janeiro to heal, but he did not. They ended up going to Beirut. Mr. Ghosn was schooled in Lebanon and later went on to Paris to continue. Maybe that peripatetic upbringing explains how easily he bridges cultures and makes him an extraordinary problem solver. Only God knows how many future Carlos Ghosns are being turned back at airports in the United States and around the world.


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