Carlos Ghosn Is a Successful Intercultural Leader Ready for Change

Because you are different, you try to integrate, and that pushes you to try to understand the environment in which you find yourself. That tends to develop one's ability to listen, to observe, to compare—qualities that are very useful in managing,' says French-Lebanese- Brazilian businessman, Carlos Ghosn, in a recent interview with Christine Tierney of the Detroit News. Carlos is known for being a talented multi-cultural leader who has taught and affected many people throughout his lifetime. He has turned numerous troubled companies into market leaders.

His background and upbringing has help guide and mold him into the person he is today.

Coming from nothing and working his way to the top has been something each person in his family has seemed to achieve. Speaking over four languages is not the only attribute that helps him effortlessly communicate and interact with different cultures throughout the world. Having background, experience, and knowledge of so many places has helped him become successful as a businessman and also as a well-known multi-cultural leader.

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Early Life/BioCarlos Ghosn Bichara was born in Porto Velho Brazil on March 9th, 1954. He was named after his Grandfather Bichara Ghosn who left Lebanon at the age of 13 to move to Brazil hoping to flee from poverty and strict religious conflict. Once in Brazil, he started working and eventually managed many businesses.

One of which helped aviation companies and Carlos’s father would soon take over these businesses after his grandfather’s death. They lived and worked in Brazil, but it is very common in the Lebanese culture to go back to marry, which is what Carlos’s grandfather did, as well as Carlos’s father.

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Carlos Ghosn father married his mother Rose who is from Nigeria but came to Lebanon to study later in her life. Growing up, Carlos’s grandmother and mother had big influences on him. His grandmother was extremely strict, and he did not care for her much because of that.  “I have learned in the years since that these are the kinds of people you remember most, the ones who make a lasting impression. Much of who I am is the result of who my grandmother was” (Ghosn, 2017). He goes on to talk about how caring and understanding his mother was and some could say she was not very strict at all, which he thinks is why his grandmother was.

At the age of two, Carlos Ghosn lived in an area where there were a lot of mosquitos and they always had to boil the water before drinking.  He was accidentally given water that was not and fell very ill. His parents decided it was time for them to leave Brazil and move back to Lebanon and live with his grandmother to get away from the harsh environment and bad water. Ghosn lived in Lebanon until he was 17.  He finished high school at a Jesuit institution and has always lived in a very religious environment.  Where he received his education played a huge role in his morals and ethics of a businessman and leader.  He was intrigued and very much respected their ways of life and philosophy.  He was taught discipline is very important and competition is equally as important.

The school he attended promoted competition and challenges in regard to their grading system. However, they also believed in people having their own intellectual freedom and promoted and instilled that in Carlos (Ghosn, Riès, & Cullen, 2006, pp. 9-10).He graduated at the age of 17 and did not have any idea what he wanted to do with his life.  However, he knew he loved geography and languages and he learned many of them.  He did not have family that went off to college except for one of his cousins, who he then sent his resume and transcripts to in hopes he would help him get accepted into HEC, a business school in Paris.  He was admitted into a preparatory school, and during that time the principal had reached out because of how great he was at math and told him he might be wasting his time studying to get into business school and suggested a very prestigious engineering school.  He was accepted and went.

His first semester he failed miserably, and it was the first time he had truly failed, which made Carlos want to try harder.  The way they taught math was different than anything he had learned before, so not only did he have to study the material, but he also had to teach himself how to understand it.  He worked extremely hard and stopped at nothing, and because of that he graduated at the top of his class (Ghosn, Riès, & Cullen, 2006, p. 10). Afterwards Carlos attended a graduate school called Polytechnique.  Carlos felt like the school made everyone feel equal. It did not matter where your father was employed or where you came from.

He liked that France was different in that aspect, people did not boast about things. Everyone worked hard to just fit in. Carlos enjoyed learning different languages and would get a group of students together a few times a week for dinner and invite American students that lived in Paris to learn languages (Ghosn, Riès, & Cullen, 2006, pp. 13-14).  Carlos used these events that took place throughout his younger years and scholastic career to help him become a businessman.Career and Professional SuccessesFrom beginning his career working at Michelin for 18 years to becoming CEO of Nissan, Ghosn is widely known for “leading one of the most dramatic modern corporation turnarounds in history” (Kirkland, 2012). Choosing to forego continuing his collegiate studies for a doctoral economics degree, Carlos would become known as “The Cost Cutter” and “The hardest-working man in the brutally competitive global car business,” have numerous books and college classes designed around him, but ultimately, would turn Nissan into the powerhouse that it is today (Muller, 2012).

Ghosn began working for Michelin right out of college in many different departments. From managing plants in France and Germany, performing business development and research on commercial tires, his ultimate reward was getting to return home to Brazil in 1985, when he became the Chief Operating Officer at Michelin. During the 1980s, Brazil was struggling financially due to a high balance of foreign debt, thus Michelin was not turning much of a profit. Ghosn helped to implement strict cash flow methods to help the company generate revenue, and to work to create peace between the labor unions that were becoming very violent and unruly. Ghosn took the initiative to take his multicultural skills and turn the company around. Upon his promotion, many at Michelin were skeptic that his efforts would ever pan out, but they did, and within a short few months, Ghosn was able to aid Michelin in turning around their South American division into one of the company’s most profitable.It did not take long for people throughout the company to see the good Ghosn was doing.

By creating a working environment that embraced workers from all cultures and being able to turn a profit for a struggling division, the board in North America reached out for his help. Michelin North America had recently acquired another world-renowned tire manufacturer, Uniroyal Goodrich, and Michelin wanted to put Ghosn to the ultimate test.  He was tasked with marrying the merging companies seamlessly during an economic downslide and selling off any additional assets so that they would be the ultimate powerhouse, a challenge that would reshape his career (Ghosn).  He succeeded, of course, and for his reward, then became the company’s new Chief Executive Officer. The challenge of his new position came without notice to other companies as well. Nissan hired Ghosn on in 1999. He was the first ever hired employee from a non-Japanese background but needed to help get the company out of potential bankruptcy.

He started cutting costs, unprofitable business ties, and even offered to the company that he would leave if he was not able to help the company succeed within three years. His efforts helped Nissan turn a profit in only the first few months and also helped the company slash debt and even begin production and sales into new territories like China. Thanks to his efforts, he would become The Chief Executive Officer of Nissan for the next six years. Ghosn would then go on to also serve as CEO of Renault, another automobile manufacturer, in France and be the first ever to be in charge of two Fortune500 companies. Then moving on to a firm in Russia, Mitsubishi, he helped companies sell almost ten million vehicles in 2016 with 11% being from his direct leadership. While with Renault, which eventually merged as Renault Nissan alliance, he lead the way to zero-emission based vehicles. He is the mastermind behind the idea of the Nissan Leaf, which to date has sold more than other company’s electric cars, such as Tesla.As of last year, Ghosn stepped down from all officer positions, but does still remain on the board of Nissan.

Looking back at his career span with any automobile companies, he turned around any production that was inches away from being shut down and turned them into extraordinary money-making machines. He has done what many deemed impossible and made a legendary namesake for himself along the way.  He has helped turn Nissan into a company that is selling the generic to the luxury version of cars to over everyone a piece of the pie and is leaving a legacy behind that many believe no one will ever be able to replicate. Successful Cross-Cultural LeaderCarlos Ghosn is a successful cross-cultural leader partly because of his international background, and partly because he is willing to try new ways of doing things that may go against the prevailing culture of the area and/or the company.

This was the case when he became the head of the Nissan-Renault Alliance.  The French and the Japanese had very different ways of conducting business.  Some believed there would be a culture clash and the alliance was mostly a cover for a takeover of Nissan.  In 1999, Nissan was floundering. The CEO of Renault, Louis Schweitzer, offered Mr. Ghosn the opportunity to head up the alliance between Nissan and Renault.  At the time Nissan was burdened with a $20 billion debt (Snyder, 2014), and Mr. Schweitzer felt the alliance would benefit both companies.  Renault did not have a North American or Asian presence and because of that, its growth was stalled, despite being a very successful European auto manufacturer.  Nissan had the North American and Asian presence, but with ten years of losses, it was struggling to stay afloat.  At first, Mr. Ghosn did not speak Japanese or know anything really about the Japanese culture.

He did not know where the Nissan factories were located or even know how to make a phone call in his new office.   In the beginning, there were multiple offers from consultants to come in and help, some were even willing to work for free.  However, Mr. Ghosn turned them down stating that he felt the Nissan recovery plan would work better if it came from the ideas of the employees at Nissan rather than from the outside.  In other words, the employees would more likely to go along with the plan if they felt their ideas were valued.  One of the ways Mr. Ghosn is such a successful cross-cultural leader is that he is not afraid to change things up some and to go against the cultural grain, so to speak.  When he first got to Nissan, he was willing to turn the Japanese way of doing business upside down, such as putting younger people in key positions, closing down non-profitable plants, and breaking ties with long-established suppliers.

He did not have any issues with the culture and way of doing business but was willing acknowledge that the traditional Japanese way was not working for Nissan at that time.  It was keeping Nissan from being successful and realizing their full potential.  He was (and is) willing to question the cultural norms that would hold a company back, while improving upon Nissan’s strengths.  However, he is also respectful about the new country’s culture and enjoys learning about it and connecting to the country and the people living there.  He believes that the local people will notice if one is connected to the people, country, and culture and is happy to be there, and “Well, they’re going to forgive you a lot of things” (Insead, 2012). Mr. Ghosn seems to have a different management style than others in his position.

He openly embraces and encourages cultural diversity and gender equality among his employees.  He believes that to successfully compete globally, “we must attract and motivate high-quality people close to our customers around the world” (Ghosn, 2005).  Gender equality seems to be an important issue for him as well.  He has taken steps to increase the numbers of women in top management in Nissan.  When he first came to Nissan, there was only one percent of the upper management who were women.  His target is to raise it to 10 percent.  He feels that, especially in Japan where the population and labor force are declining in size, that it does not make sense to ignore the contributions of well-educated, motivated, and bright women.  The strength of the Renault-Nissan alliance lies with how Carlos Ghosn has taken the strengths of both cultures and maintained them while promoting diversity and the necessary changes to help both companies succeed.  Each culture (French and Japanese) is very different from each other, however, the alliance between them is stronger because it respects the individual cultural identities.  His aim was for an alliance of the two very different cultures, and not a take-over of Nissan from Renault.

Mr. Ghosn felt that the alliances between vastly different cultures can be very powerful.  Each company brings its own culture and strengths.  “If you merge them, you risk losing some of the benefits of diversity.  As long as you can make a company with different cultures working together, you’re going to get the best out of every single culture” (Snyder, 2014).Cross-Cultural RelationshipsCarlos Ghosn has a spectacular gift of adapting and thriving in cross-cultural relationships.  Cross-culture is the interaction of people from different backgrounds in the business world. This is key to showing how international business people communicate among themselves across culture.  From a young age, Carlos Ghosn was exposed to cross-culture scenarios where he was thrust into the world of business on an international level. For starters, he holds French, Brazilian, and Lebanese citizenships. This already speaks volumes to his experience at understanding and being immersed in three different cultures.  Carlos started his professional career working at Michelin.

Michelin at the time, was Europe’s most successful tire company. At 27, Carlos began his rapid moving career success in leadership after he was promoted to plant manager at Michelin in Le Puy, France. During his time here, Carlos was asked to improve Michelin’s deteriorating South American division. As per his success, he was named CEO during Brazil’s economic crisis. Using his cross-cultural methods of creative structuring and organizational change, Carlos turned the South American division into one of the organizations most successful and profitable divisions. Post Carlos’ successful turnaround of the South American division, Ghosn was named the lead of Michelin’s North American Unit. This was only the beginning of his highly successful career as a cross-cultural leader.

Carlos Ghosn has been referred to as many things.  After coming into his current role of CEO and Chairman of Renault-Nissan, his radical restructuring turned Nissan back to being a major competitor in global markets and earned Ghosn the nicknames “le costkiller” and “Mr. Fix It.”  He also was named Asia’s CEO of the Year Award in 2001 from Fortune Magazine.  When speaking about leveraging cross-cultural diversity, Ghosn states, “More and more, managers are dealing with different cultures.  Companies are going global, and teams are spread across the globe…. You have to know how to motivate people who speak different languages, who have different cultural contexts, who have different sensitivities and habits.” Ghosn acknowledges that for success, you must work with people from all walks of life. You have to reason and come to agreements with people who do not all think the same way that you do and thus may differ when prioritizing assets and projects.

In addition, when diving into the competencies and the deeper levels of factors that enable such successful cross-functional relationships, Ghosn states the following “Working in a multicultural environment necessitates from the beginning a kind of thirst for learning. If you don’t have a thirst for learning, if you think you know it all, and your system is the best, and you don’t even try, this is not going to work” (Brannen & Gustavson, 2013). Carlos Ghosn explains that the key to having successful, thriving cross-cultural interactions all start with the same thing…an open mind.  This is testament to having a humble approach to business can absolutely make and organization more prosperous.

Business, much like life, is give and take. Furthermore, Ghosn explains one other deciding factor in successful multicultural relationships is what he calls “common ground.”  To him, the word “common” means shared understanding and a solid foundation for motive and reasoning when deciding on and making effective business choices.  He says, “This is why I always strive to make decisions based on common sense—business logic and a shared understanding of all sides of the issue taking into consideration everyone’s context, cultures, functions, and so on.  The only way to make sound decisions in a multicultural environment is to use facts and common sense.”  Carlos Ghosn emphasizes the importance of being authentic and meeting business associates halfway. His principles founded here are made very clear that when doing business, there is no scenario that should be pursued when one side loses and one side wins.

Carlos Ghosn’s methods in achieving successful cross-cultural relationships have proven effective time and time again. He has immersed cross-cultural dynamics in the culture of Nissan by using positive resources and methods to achieve the best possible business relationships.  His humble approach to business across borders has set the precedence for not only Renault-Nissan, but for their business partners and vendors. Thanks to Carlos Ghosn, Nissan has regained its power as a major contender in global markets.  As for Mr. Ghosn, he has earned his spot in history as one of the best cross-cultural business leaders of our time.

Updated: May 22, 2022
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Carlos Ghosn Is a Successful Intercultural Leader Ready for Change. (2022, May 22). Retrieved from

Carlos Ghosn Is a Successful Intercultural Leader Ready for Change essay
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