“You learn from diversity, but you’re comforted by commonality.”
Several books can be written and endless movies can be produced about the many intriguing chapters of the once-in-a-lifetime story of Carlos Ghosn.
Throughout his unmatched career in the expansive world of auto, Ghosn repeatedly raised the bar and methodically abolished the word “impossible” from his glossary.
On his way to the top of the auto industry food chain, the influential Lebanese-Brazilian-French businessman achieved celebrity status in the most unlikely places in the world.
While there is certainly no shortage of big events in his life and career, below are five of the biggest Carlos Ghosn moments.
#1 The beginning of a legacy
When Carlos Ghosn was 30 years old, he became the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of Michelin’s South American operations.
This was in 1985 after Ghosn had poured 7 years of his life into the European tire maker, where he started out as a management trainee in 1978 and climbed up the ranks over time.
As COO, Ghosn was tasked with revitalizing Michelin’s operations in its South American division, which was falling apart due to Brazil’s hyperinflation at the time.
In two years’ time, he restored profitability and stability to the division after forming diverse, cross-cultural management teams that reorganized operation among the different nationalities working under Michelin in the region.
It was this experience that formed the foundation upon which the celebrated businessman built his famous multicultural approach to business management.
On that topic, he once said: “You learn from diversity, but you’re comforted by commonality.”
Around 3 years after his remarkable achievement, Ghosn was promoted to CEO of Michelin North America, in 1990. Later, he oversaw the restructuring of the company that he had invested a lifetime working for.
#2 “The Cost Killer”
In 1996, Carlos Ghosn joined Renault as the executive vice president overseeing manufacturing, purchasing, research, and development.
At that time, the French carmaker had been suffering massive failures and losses after its disastrous 1994 merger with Volvo.
Ghosn quickly went to work, slashing the company’s costs and implementing his effective restructuring knowledge and experience to turn a crumbling Renault around.
By 1997, Renault returned to profitability and Carlos Ghosn earned his famous nickname “Le Cost Killer” for his impressive feat.
#3 Erasing $20 billion of debt
“The widely held consensus was that he would fail, that Nissan wasn’t worth saving and it couldn’t be done.”
John Casesa, top auto analyst at Merrill Lynch.
After successfully doing the unlikely, Ghosn turned to do what was genuinely thought to be impossible.
The then-45-year-old Vice President of Renault was sent to Japan to become Nissan’s COO after the French automaker bought a 36.8% stake in Nissan Motors.
In 1999, Ghosn arrived in Japan to restructure the mess that was Nissan.
The company had nearly $20 billion in debt, unenviable quarterly reports, and was speeding towards an unavoidable cliff.
Ghosn was under immense pressure to drive Nissan back to safety due to the size of the challenge, on one hand, and the fact that he was the first foreigner to head a major Japanese company (Japan is infamously insular), on the other.
According to The New York Times, John Casesa, who was a top auto analyst at Merril Lynch at the time, advised Ghosn to rent a house in Tokyo instead of buying one.
This shows how firmly Casesa – and numerous other experts – believed that the new arrival would fail at the impossible task of reviving Nissan.
Needless to say, Carlos Ghosn did not fail to amaze.
A few months after arriving in Tokyo, he reprised his role as The Cost Killer and radically slashed Nissan’s costs; he shut five factories and cut the workforce by 21,000, nearly 14%.
Nissan not only survived but soon flourished, becoming Japan’s 2nd carmaker 6 years later, thanks to the aggressive determination of its new leader.
Notably, before scoring this accomplishment, Ghosn had promised to resign if the goals of his “Nissan Revival Plan” were not met by the year 2002.
Spoiler alert: the goals were met, ahead of the deadline, too, and, against all odds, Ghosn went on to become a beloved pop culture figure in Japan; something that is uncommon for newcomers and foreigners to be in the country.
Bonus: He also earned a new nickname in Japan for turning Nissan around; the Icebreaker.
#4 The chairmanship streak
In 2001, Carlos Ghosn became the CEO of Nissan.
4 years later, when he became the CEO of both Renault and Nissan – after being named President and CEO of Renault in 2005 – Ghosn also became the world’s first person to simultaneously run two companies on the Fortune Global 500.
But his hunt for chairs did not end there.
In 2009, Renault named him chairman of the board and, 4 years later, he assumed the same position for the Russian AVTOVAZ automaker.
Additionally, Ghosn added the chairmanship of Japan’s Mitsubishi Motors in 2016 to his shiny portfolio.
After decades of brilliant achievements, neverending praises, and catchy nicknames, Carlos Ghosn entered the third decade of the 21st century with a new, rather unwelcome title; the world’s most famous fugitive.
On December 29th, 2019, Carlos Ghosn mysteriously disappeared from Japan and popped up in Lebanon, seemingly out of nowhere.
This was after a difficult 2-year quarrel with Japanese authorities over controversial allegations of false accounting, which Ghosn was accused of.
Over that period, Ghosn was arrested for a total of four times, the latest of which was in April 2019.
After that, he did the impossible again by managing to escape his house arrest, bypass Japanese airport security who-knows how, and land in the Lebanese capital.
Ironically, the Lebanese public found out that Ghosn was on Lebanese soil before Japan could know where he had escaped its tenacious grip.
Correction: The number of years that Carlos Ghosn had spent at Michelin when he became its COO is 7 years. – (June 1st, 2020 at 12:49 PM): We initially wrote that the number was 18. Upon being presented with new information, we reflected this in the corrections.