Nissan's move to Nashville dismayed hundreds of employees. The now-retired senior vice president in North America stands by the decision.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 2000
Role: Senior vice president in North America, retired as vice chairman
Key influence: Helped carry out the disruptive headquarters move to Nashville
The man assigned to carry out the traumatic move was Jim Morton, senior vice president in North America. More than half the staff of about 1,200, and several key executives, remained in their beloved California. The company consolidated operations in a state that was its manufacturing headquarters, with plants in Smyrna and Decherd, Tenn.
“We were hoping to achieve a lot of efficiencies and reduce travel time to a large portion of our customer base, which is really east of the Mississippi,” he says.
As the person in charge, Morton became a focal point for critics. According to BusinessWeek magazine, some disgruntled staffers even accused the collegial executive, whom a friend described as “very polite and accommodating,” of pushing a relocation to the South out of personal political ambition.
Morton denied the accusation, telling BusinessWeek he had no intention of running for office.
Morton, now 63, retired as vice chairman in April 2007. He and CEO Carlos Ghosn remain close, staying in touch by phone and e-mail.
In the late 1980s, Morton and Ghosn had worked together on another move. Morton was head of public relations and government affairs at Michelin North America when the tire maker moved from Lake Success, N.Y., to Greenville, S.C.
Nissan Executive Vice President Norio Matsumura said he still has mixed emotions about Nissan's move to Nashville.
“From an efficiency viewpoint, definitely it was the right decision,” Matsumura said. “But we still need to solve somehow the emotional part. There are still a lot of people who are attached to Los Angeles, but it has nothing to do with the business, and whether we can hire the right people in Nashville.
“We need to wait four to five years to make a judgment as to whether it was correct or not.”
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