TOKYO -- On the cusp of this year's Tokyo Motor Show, Nissan Motor Co. is celebrating its 80th anniversary in business.
And putting aside car talk for just a second, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn deserves recognition for achieving something that still eludes auto industry leaders around the globe: Ghosn has transformed Japan's oldest automaker into one of the most geographically diverse management teams in the business.
Just look at his leadership group today.
An Englishman, Andy Palmer, heads up Nissan's global product development. Another Englishman, Trevor Mann, is in charge of the company's global performance. Joe Peter, an American, a Detroiter and Wayne State University alum, is Nissan's global CFO.
Global human resources is run by the American Greg Kelly. Jose Munoz of Spain runs North America. Jose Valls of Argentina runs Latin America.
A Swede -- former GM purchasing boss Bo Andersson -- is at the helm of Nissan's Russian operations.
Johan de Nysschen, a South African, runs the luxury Infiniti brand worldwide from his office in Hong Kong. The Cuban-American Alfonso Albaisa is in charge of Infiniti global design. Frenchman Vincent Cobee heads the Datsun brand as it prepares to enter markets from Africa to India. And of course, CEO Ghosn himself is a Brazilian.
Has any other automaker -- let alone a Japanese automaker -- opened the cultural gates this far on corporate leadership?
Make no mistake, Nissan is a proudly Japanese corporation. Thirteen of the automaker's top 21 executives are Japanese. But that's the point -- 13 are. Not 21.
Auto companies talk about their global ambitions. And many have made a practice of promoting local executives into top slots at local subsidiaries.
But change has been slow. North American industry managers, suppliers, consultants and others will share their old frustrations of trying to persuade foreign automakers to listen to new ideas, to try new approaches, consider new supply sources, or even to promote individuals of different nationalities into their top ranks where strategic decisions are made.
Monday night, in the big public lobby of Nissan's headquarters in Yokohama, Ghosn addressed a crowd of Nissan executives, suppliers, politicians and media. Speaking in Japanese, Ghosn told the crowd that on the 80th anniversary, he wanted to look forward -- not backward.
Nissan operates in 160 countries, he noted. "We look forward to making the car affordable to more people," he said.
The mission, in other words: How can Nissan sell cars to people around the world who have never owned a car in the past? To drivers who have never bought a Nissan before? Or to people whose greatest product need is a vehicle that has never been offered to them before?
You obviously don't do it by doing the same things you've tried in the past.
You do it by gathering together people from different world perspectives with new ideas, and then you listen.