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'Powerhouse status' for Nissan is Ghosn's goal

Carlos Ghosn's presidential office on the 13th floor of Nissan's headquarters in Tokyo's fashionable Ginza district is surprisingly unprepossessing room, with dark wood panelling, thick beige carpet and heavy leather corduroy-trimmed '60s furniture.

It does not reflect the uncluttered, incisive persona of a cosmopolitan executive who has overseen the transferral of Japan's second largest carmaker from "near death experience" to recovery in just over two years.

But the fact that Mr Ghosn has not transformed his dowdy working environment is symptomatic of his approach to the Nissan business. Spending money on redecorating and re-equipping the office would have jarred during a period of 21,000 job losses and closure of three major factories.

Two years ago at the Tokyo motor show Mr Ghosn promised to deliver the Nissan Recovery Plan or quit if the targets were not met. The 47-year-old remains firmly in the saddle.

Mr Ghosn, who is Brazilian by birth, Lebanese by parentage and French by citizenship, last month declared that Nissan, which achieved first-half profits of £1bn, was accelerating from "revival to renewal".

He believes the NRP has gone a long way to removing structural costs, and ending claustrophobic and inefficient relationships, like the 'keiritsu' system, which tied manufacturers to related component suppliers.

Now a "rejuvenated, viable and distinctive brand" must regain credibility and consumer appeal - a challenge for a manufacturer whose cars were valued £600 lower than the same models carrying Toyota badges at consumer clinics in Japan and the US.

At the core of Mr Ghosn's revolution is what he called "changing mindsets".

Younger, intuitive Japanese designers have come to the fore as the company begins to promote on merit, not by age and time served.

Mr Ghosn said: "We are not in the business of changing cultures but maximising performance."

Missed targets meant managers missed out on bonus payments during a summer management reshuffle.

"There was a lack of urgency, declining market share, unprofitability, debt and no long term plan. And everyone was always finding excuses," said Mr Ghosn.

Reasons rather than excuses are on the agenda for this direct man, for whom effective communication is an obsession.

One Nissan insider said: "Communication really matters because he cannot tolerate confused messages. When he makes statements he wants to know everyone got it at the same time. If the media got it and the staff didn't then he'll have another round of communicating for the employees."

Another colleague, who dismissed suggestions that Mr Ghosn ruled by fear, said: "The only fear comes from people who don't know the answers to his questions, or worse, pretend they do. He does not go around sacking people but expects you to perform well and deliver."

He added: "He tells you what you are going to do and expects you to challenge that instruction if you think it needs challenging. He does take your views on board and moves if a theory has credibility. You have to be fairly confident to play at his level. When you work with him the adrenaline flows."

Mr Ghosn admitted that it would be "a weakness" to always want a consensus.

There is a cultural sensitivity about his approach, which includes a determination to learn Japanese, with early morning classes.

When Mr Ghosn dragged corporate Japan out of denial by announcing swingeing cuts at Nissan in 1999, he made a point of winding up the speech with a mission statement delivered in Japanese.

He also sounded out the Japanese motor industry's first foreign chief executive, former Mazda boss Henry Wallace, on how to navigate the minefield of Japanese business sensitivities.

An ambitious executive, Mr Ghosn will no doubt seek new challenges once he has achieved his aim of retoring Nissan to "powerhouse" status.

One option is to succeed Louis Schweitzer at the head of an increasingly global Renault.

Mr Ghosn said: "This is a complimentary and comforting perspective, but life is always what happens after you have planned for something else."

This statement points towards Ford and Detroit, where Mr Ghosn earned his formidable cost cutting spurs as head of Michelin North America.

His comments prior to Jac Nasser's ousting as Ford chief executive included: "You don't change pilots during important flights. This kind of opportunity happens once or twice in life."

Note that: once, or twice.

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