Energy and focus have been Tavares' trademarks. Born in Portugal, he went to France in 1975 to finish his education, graduating with an engineering degree from the prestigious Ecole Centrale in Paris. He joined Renault as a test-drive engineer in 1981 and at the same time indulged his passion for motorsports. In 2004, a few years after Renault acquired a controlling stake in Nissan, Tavares moved to the Japanese side of the alliance, and by 2005, he was an executive vice president for the North and South American operations. Four years later, he became president of Nissan North America, and in 2011, he was appointed No. 2 at Renault Group to Carlos Ghosn.
But after a short honeymoon, relations between the "Two Carloses," as the French press dubbed them, turned cool. The catalyst was a 2013 interview with Bloomberg in which Tavares admitted that he probably wouldn't succeed Ghosn, who was just 59 at the time, at Renault and stated his desire to run his own car company, mentioning General Motors by name. "Anyone who is passionate about the car industry comes to the conclusion that there is a point where you have the energy and appetite for a No. 1 position," he said.
Perhaps sensing disloyalty, Ghosn facilitated that desire by pushing out Tavares, who landed at crosstown rival PSA Group just a few months later. But it was a job few probably coveted: The maker of Peugeot and Citroen was losing an estimated $250 million per month, and the Peugeot family had just agreed to relinquish control after nearly 200 years, selling 14 percent stakes in the company each to the French government and to Chinese automaker Dongfeng.
Tavares quickly announced a recovery plan called "Back in the Race," a nod to his motorsports hobby, that laid out his foundational vision for success in the auto industry: Improve pricing by raising quality and eliminating unprofitable sales channels; enact a global "core model strategy" that focuses on only the most profitable segments and shared platforms; and enhance competitiveness by lowering wage costs, raising factory utilization rates and trimming manufacturing costs per vehicle.
He promised positive cash flow by 2016, a 2 percent operating margin by 2018 and €2 billion of free cash flow from 2016 to 2018 — because "cash is king," as he's often said.
Those targets were reached well ahead of schedule as PSA recorded a $1.32 billion profit in 2015, a 5 percent margin. Tavares was hailed as a "miracle worker," although some analysts said they thought his targets were too conservative — "underpromise and overdeliver" has been a mild complaint levied against him. Others noted that the turnaround was accompanied by a surging European automotive market. The proof, they said, would come when Tavares was faced with a recession.