January 28, 2017 2:30 am JST
My Personal History

Carlos Ghosn (27) Something special in Brazil

The Rio Olympics gave Nissan-Renault a chance to shine in Ghosn's homeland

Carlos Ghosn carries the torch for the Rio de Janeiro Olympic Games.

The Olympic torch was heavier than I expected, but Rio was as hot as I remembered it. The Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro were scheduled to commence on Aug. 5, 2016. At just past 11 a.m. on that day, I was running a distance of about 100 meters down Avenida Atlantica, along Copacabana Beach, to pass the torch to the next runner as my family watched nearby. Despite being wintertime in Brazil -- its location in the Southern Hemisphere means its seasons are flipped from those in the North -- the temperature hovered around 30 C, causing beads of sweat to trickle down my face.

Brazil is my homeland. My great-grandfather crossed the Atlantic by boat and reached the shores of Rio more than a hundred years ago. Today, my mother and two of my three sisters reside in Rio. We're a tightknit family. I return to Rio twice a year, generally in August and during New Year's, and my children also do their best to make it down to Rio from the U.S. So even if there were no Olympics, my children and I would have been here around this time. That said, I felt this summer was going to be special, quite different from other years. That's why I urged our staff in Brazil and the Americas to do their very best to secure Nissan's position as the local sponsor of the Olympics.

This meant that Nissan was the sole provider of 4,200 cars for the Olympic Games. We held many events on the torch's relay route, and Nissan vehicles -- passenger cars and minivans made in Mexico, the U.S. and Brazil -- were scattered all over the area. Larger-sized minivans were provided by Renault.

The Nissan-Renault Alliance was everywhere, and our presence went beyond vehicles. No visitor could miss the brightly lit glass-walled building along Avenida Atlantica, near the beach volleyball venue. We converted that building into the Nissan Kicks Hotel, which was used by Nissan personnel and guests, including members of the media from around the world. Nissan Kicks is the name of a compact car sold in the Brazilian market. Currently, the car is built in Mexico, but it's slated to be produced at the Resende factory, located right outside Rio's city borders.

We are working to improve our business and grow our market share in Brazil. In August, we announced that the alliance will strive for a combined 15% share of the country's automotive market, up from 10% today.

It's no secret that Brazil has recently fallen on hard economic times, with slumping resource prices and political strife. Despite all of this, I'm convinced that there is great potential in this country. I should know because I watched Brazil overcome even worse conditions in the 1980s, while I was heading Michelin's local subsidiary; the country was ruled by a military regime but eventually transitioned into a democratic state. I believe the Olympics gave Brazil one jump-start it needed.

The first rule of business is to take advantage of all opportunities, but it is also important for businesses to give back to society. Some of you may have seen Rio's favelas -- slums on the hillsides of the city, where poor people live -- featured in the news. A steep class divide is an unfortunate side effect of economic growth, but we at Nissan are addressing this problem by building a work-training facility in the Caju district. Even though several foreign companies have factories in the area, many people in Caju are unemployed. With our training facility, we're helping to create opportunities for the people there.

Some people have asked if I have any interest in a political role in Brazil, and the answer is no. But I do feel a deep desire to give back to the country, if strictly from a business perspective. The Brazilian automobile market is the seventh largest in the world, but a number of years ago, it was ranked as high as fourth, ahead of Germany. Who knows? Perhaps Brazil can one day claim that spot again. For now, we are planting the seeds of growth, and we will see what the future holds.

Carlos Ghosn is chairman and CEO of Nissan Motor Co., Ltd.

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