McDonough School of Business
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“Mr. Fix It” Ghosn Discusses Global and Disruptive Leadership

The embodiment of a global business leader, Carlos Ghosn was born in Brazil, grew up in Lebanon, and studied in Paris. Now the chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, Ghosn has led companies with operations all over the world, currently overseeing two headquarters in Japan and France. Ghosn shared his thoughts on disruptive leadership in the global automotive industry at Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business on March 22 as part of the Paul Hill Lecture Series.

“One of the most important attributes for becoming an efficient global leader is a sense of empathy,” he said. “Having the capacity to connect with, to understand, and to be curious about another person’s culture is a fundamental element of the business.”

Citing Nissan as an example, Ghosn explained the open-mindedness of the company, which pulls its leaders from all different backgrounds and experiences.  

“Empathy is hard to find in a book,” he said. “We have to have a mindset of empathy and look for how diversity can enrich us and become an inspiration, I’ve learned that through my time with the company.”

Ghosn took over Nissan’s Japanese operations in the late 1990s. Without speaking the language or even knowing much about the country, he recognized he was taking a risk.

“I was just always curious about Japan and wanted to learn more,” he said. “I knew that, even if I failed, it would be a positive experience and a great learning opportunity.”

The project did not fail. Forming the Renault-Nissan Alliance in 1999, Ghosn developed the strategic partnership in a unique way, vowing to keep the two automotive powerhouses separate in order to respect each company’s individuality. His successful reconstruction of Renault’s business model in the late 1990s, as well as his rescue of Nissan’s $20 billion debt, earned Ghosn the nickname “Mr. Fix It.”

Looking ahead, Ghosn said Nissan is working hard to develop new technologies that will disrupt the auto industry. Some of these new initiatives include electric vehicles, as well as the autonomous connected car, also known as the self-driving car.

“In the connected car you can have video conferences, play with your kids, text with friends – it makes the car much more attractive and it’s needed to keep up with people’s wants today,” he said. “Without it, the auto industry won’t survive. But it’s a challenge. There are a lot of regulatory issues that need to be addressed; however, if we don’t move now someone else is going to take our place.”

Juggling new business ventures, engaging in multi-cultural experiences, and searching for new disruptive technologies are all just a part of the job for Ghosn. But the successful businessman, who attended a Jesuit school in Paris, is still humbled by his roots.

“Through my Jesuit education, I learned to make sense of my actions and to have discipline,” he said. “I was pushed to achieve action with a purpose and that purpose created more motivation and depth for me as a person. It pushed me to succeed.”