BERLIN - Like a hurricane, Carlos Ghosn roared into Berlin for the Automotive News Europe Congress.
Delegates converged on the Renault executive, who would switch to Nissan two days later and really should have been in Tokyo preparing for his new job.
'You're like a rock star,' Keith Crain told him.
'That's right,' said Ghosn. 'Everyone follows me.'
Jean-Baptiste Duzan, Ghosn's Renault colleague, got to Berlin the day before. 'When does Carlos come?' asked the purchasing boss. 'Will I see him here? We keep missing each other.' But Duzan would be gone before Ghosn was due to arrive.
Renault executives are shuffling back and forth so much between Tokyo and Paris that it is hard to find time to see each other.
Ian Gibson, the new President of Nissan Europe, saw Ghosn briefly in Berlin, but missed Duzan.
'Is Jean-Baptiste still here?' Gibson asked when he arrived to deliver his speech. 'No? Too bad. We're never in the same place at the same time.'
Neither was Pierre-Alain de Smedt in Berlin to greet his new colleagues at Renault. He was scheduled to speak - as president of Seat - but had to cancel after being hired away from the Volkswagen Group. He will take over Ghosn's responsibilities at Renault.
De Smedt's move is the latest example of senior-level job-hopping in Europe, where there used to be a gentleman's agreement against such things. No more. There is too much to do and too few to do it. Talent is at a premium.
Dozens of Renault's senior people are being expended on the Nissan turnaround.
Ghosn officially became Nissan's chief operating officer on 25 June. But he has been rushing around for two months, immersing himself in every detail of Nissan's business. He has until October to put together a recovery plan.
The world is watching. And Ghosn knows it won't be easy. 'Only the future will tell if all this was only a dream or a winning strategy,' he said.
Meanwhile, there was great curiosity here about the future of Volvo, now that it is part of Ford. In his speech, NedCar President Chris DeWulf focused on the success of the Volvo-Mitsubishi joint venture in Holland. But delegates only wanted to know whether Ford would put one of its own platforms into NedCar or pull Volvo out of the joint venture entirely.
DeWulf said he didn't know what would happen, but he vowed that NedCar is ready for anything.
Ford - the company that worries most about overcapacity - may decide to fill one of its other plants with the small Volvos built in Holland. Mitsubishi would be left to fend for itself, delivering another blow to the Japanese.
Nearly 10 years after its peak - the 1989 Tokyo auto show - Japan's automotive reputation has sunk to a new low. What happened?
Duzan said that Renault has grown strong adapting ideas that originated in Japan. He himself was Europe's first car project leader -- a decade ago, on the Safrane. Duzan was surprised to learn that Nissan today does not use all-powerful 'Japanese-style' project leaders.
'We've come full circle,' he said. 'We are taking ideas back to Japan that we learned from the Japanese.'
Ian Gibson and Dennis Pawley both got rich and famous by absorbing lean production principles working for Japanese companies - Gibson at Nissan in the UK, Pawley at Mazda's transplant in the USA in the late 1980s. Pawley later went to Chrysler and became American's first lean manufacturing guru.
But Pawley sounded anachronistic in Berlin. After listening to Akira Imai, Toyota's new top executive in Europe, he declared that Toyota is the best auto company in the world. That used to be a fairly common thesis, but it is seldom heard anymore. Do people still believe it?
Imai, a funny, refreshing executive, says that by 2005, Toyota will sell 800,000 cars in Europe, a third more than today. Pawley told the Europeans to pay attention. 'When I heard him say 800,000,' he said, 'I thought, 1/8Watch out, this is a company that does what it says it will do.''
Pawley, 57, is now a consultant and on the board of metal stamper Oxford Automotive.
He was always restless, moving from General Motors to Mazda to United Technologies and finally to Chrysler. He felt one generation removed from the new order at DaimlerChrysler. Before retiring last December, he told Jurgen Schrempp, 'If I was 10 years younger I'd be gunning for your job.'
After the Congress, I saw Pawley sitting by himself in Berlin's Tegel airport, looking nothing like a DaimlerChrysler executive vice president. There was no suit and tie, no entourage. He hadn't even bothered to go to the business-class lounge.
He was lost in thought when I approached and took the opportunity to thank him for coming to the congress. I'd been out of the USA in the years since he had become a legend in America and had never met him. It was my chance to say hello just as Denny Pawley was saying good-bye.