Carlos Ghosn heads 3 major car manufacturers – Nissan, Renault, and Mitsubishi, as well as the Renault-Nissan Alliance, the fourth largest automobile group in the world. After his radical restructuring of Renault that returned the company to profit in the late 1990s, Fortune identified him as one of the 10 most powerful business people outside the U.S. He’s been asked to run at least two other automakers, General Motors and Ford.
What does every CEO need to have?
Unfortunately, to do this job there are a couple of preconditions: No matter how smart or gifted you are, you cannot do the job if you’re not able to sleep anywhere, anytime. If you can’t do that, don’t even try to be a CEO. You’re gonna have a hard time. You also need to be extremely organized and disciplined. People think if you’re disciplined that means you’re programmed, but no. You also have to be able to make U-turns and listen to a lot of different ideas.
When was your toughest time as CEO?
Probably the first three months at Nissan in Japan because I had to learn the company very fast. It was on the verge of a cash crunch, and we didn’t have much time to fix it. And I had to do it with all of Japan looking. I was the ultimate outsider: I was not Japanese. I was not part of Nissan. I was just arriving in the country, and I had three months to announce my plan. Everybody was saying, “OK, what’s this guy gonna do?”
You were born in Brazil, raised in Lebanon, and live in Japan. Which culture has the right approach to life?
There is not one best approach. I’m very connected to Brazil because it’s made up of people from all over the world living peacefully together. The Lebanese part is also important because it’s a very old country — people of different origins and beliefs, Venetians, Arabs, Jews, and Christians. It’s a place of perpetual conflicts and wars. But when I go to Japan, I see one culture, one people, one history, a country that has never been invaded or colonized. It’s a shock. But it’s a refreshing shock. In Japan you invite people to dinner 7 to 8:30 pm, everybody’s waiting before 7. At 8:30, everybody leaves. That’s Japan. In Brazil, you invite people for 7 pm, the first guy shows up at 9, and then you have some people come at 10:30 and people leaving you at 3 o’clock in the morning. But this is expected. So you adapt to both.
What’s the most prized car in your personal collection?
Well, the car I’m most attached to is the 350Z because it was the first year of the new Z and it was a symbol of the revival of Nissan. We brought the Z and the GTR back again, and I have both.