President Kume knew how to fix Nissan, but it took seven more years after he left — and Carlos Ghosn — to get it done.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1946
Role: Nissan president, 1985-92
Key influence: Launched Infiniti in uphill battle against Nissan's bureaucracy
Nissan desperately needed to energize a plodding bureaucracy, listen to customers and design sexier cars.
Kume worked hard to get it all done. And during his tenure, he launched the luxury Infiniti brand in the United States in 1989 and invested in U.S. operations.
But in the end, it took the acquisition by Renault in 1999 and a foreigner, Carlos Ghosn, to turn around Nissan.
Kume, now retired in Japan, “was a very good executive, very good at motivating people,” says Nissan Executive Vice President Norio Matsumura. “He was the right person to make a customer-oriented philosophy, but not many people in the organization understood it very well.”
Kume rose through engineering, eventually taking over r&d in 1983 and becoming president in 1985. In his inaugural address, Kume urged Nissan employees to look “outside” to the customers.
Unfortunately for Kume, Japan's bubble economy burst in 1990.
“When Kume took over, he took action against the yen's appreciation,” says Yoshikazu Hanawa, who became president 11 years later. “At that time, the U.S. market was very important to us. He made sure the U.S. operation was steady and strong.”
Kume found Nissan's culture a huge obstacle. To encourage creativity, he famously reduced the number of hankos (authorizing signatures) that had been needed for any decision and opened the door for younger and more creative minds to hold sway.
“I have developed a great respect for this man,” says Mitsuya Goto, former head of Nissan's international public relations. “He tried to break down the walls between different divisions and between manufacturing and the marketing people. He used to say that he wanted to break down all of the walls.”
Toward the end of his tenure, Kume acknowledged that the effort to turn the ship of Nissan's state would take more years. To be exact, seven more years — and Carlos Ghosn.
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