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Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn (1) Up in the air on New Year's

Nissan chief opens up about himself and what it takes to succeed in a global age

In 1999, Carlos Ghosn, then the executive vice president of French automaker Renault, arrived in Japan. His mission: save Nissan Motor. As CEO of the struggling company, he would lead a dramatic turnaround, cutting costs and revamping the brand's faded image. In 2005, Ghosn took the helm at Renault, too. Under his leadership, the Renault-Nissan Alliance -- an unprecedented Franco-Japanese carmaking partnership -- has become one of the biggest automotive groups in the world.

Ghosn keeps going. Last December, he became chairman of Mitsubishi Motors, a recent addition to the alliance. All this leaves little time for penning one's memoirs, but Ghosn found time to share his life story in this exclusive 30-part series for the Nikkei Asian Review.

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I'm somewhere over the Atlantic Ocean now, cruising at an altitude of about 14,000 meters. As I fly toward Brazil, my thoughts are in Japan. While it is a tradition for me to spend the New Year holiday with my family in Brazil, a part of me wishes I could also be in Japan, on the most celebrated day of the year. I extend my Happy New Year's wishes to all.

As the CEO of both Nissan Motor and Renault, and the chairman of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, I split my time each month between Japan, France and other markets where the companies operate, such as the U.S., Brazil, China and the Middle East. People often ask me what I do from day to day. It's a difficult question to answer: No one day is like another. It depends on the region where I am working and what decisions need to be made. But while every day is different, it is also the same in the sense that I am focused on the performance and success of these businesses.

Regardless of where I am in the world, I am an early riser. In Paris, I'm usually at the office by 7:30 a.m. In Japan, I arrive closer to 8 a.m. because of the additional travel time between my home in Tokyo and Nissan's offices in Yokohama. By the time I arrive, I have already been working quietly by myself for many hours. I find these are often my best hours.

As head of Renault-Nissan, Carlos Ghosn travels regularly between his offices in Japan and France.

Most of my day is tightly scheduled. Meetings start at 8 a.m. and don't stop until the day is finished, often around 8 p.m. or later. It is not uncommon for me to leave Tokyo on a Friday night, attend meetings in another country over the weekend, then fly to Paris for a full week of work. It helps that I can sleep well on an airplane. This kind of lifestyle can take a toll on you, both physically and socially. It is not without a price to pay, and you have to manage that. But it is what is required of many leaders in the age of globalization.

Globalization is changing how business is done and what it means to be competitive. We are also seeing another societal trend shaping global business: the issue of identity and the resurgence of nationalism. These two trends coexist. To understand what I mean, consider Brexit. The U.K. voted to leave the European Union, but they still want to work with the region -- and trade with the world.

Both trends are certainly at play at Nissan. Globalization is what makes it possible for us to sell our cars in more than 160 countries and attract diverse talent. But our identity remains deeply embedded in our Japanese DNA.

As I said, I also run Renault, a French automaker. For the last 17 years, Renault and Nissan have engaged in a unique alliance to generate synergies for both companies. These two companies have shared goals, but distinct cultures and identities. The Renault-Nissan Alliance is an example of how, despite differences in language, regions and traditions, two companies can be stronger together. In this way, the alliance also embraces both the opportunities of globalization and the benefits of individualism.

Just as globalization and identity describe Nissan, they also perfectly express my life. My grandfather was a Lebanese man who moved to Brazil, where I was born. But I spent my youth and high school days in Lebanon before attending college in France, where I acquired French citizenship. I also lived in the U.S. for many years, and I have children who live there still.

But I feel Brazilian when I'm in Brazil, so you can imagine my pride when I was able to carry the Olympic torch in my home country at the start of the 2016 Rio Olympics last summer. Some people tell me, "You're like a different person when you're going back to Rio." Maybe that's because I'm returning to my roots.

My children also grew up with many cultural influences. They were born in Brazil and the U.S., and they received their education in France, Japan and the U.S. Everywhere they have lived, they have picked up pieces of the culture: They have adopted the graciousness and scrupulousness of the Japanese people, while also embodying a uniquely French way of thinking. I believe that one day the world will be filled with people like them, those who retain their identities while embracing globalization.

Where a person is born no longer determines their destiny. Twenty years ago, it was normal for people to work in their home country, but from now on, more people will live and work far away from their birthplace. This opens up new opportunities but also exposes individuals to new risks. For example, globalization requires more people to work in an unfamiliar country for extended periods of time. In addition to adapting to new environments, they will have to deal with things like jet lag, and many may even lose friends along the way. The sacrifices they will make will be great, and they will need plenty of resolve and resources to overcome the challenges. My life has not been without these sacrifices. However, globalization can also expand one's horizons, allowing people to realize their potential and achieve success.

People around the world, particularly in Japan, are opening up to the idea of a global lifestyle. It is in this context that I share my own story, with the hope that it may provide some inspiration. 

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

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This column is part of The Nikkei's "My Personal History" ("Watashi no Rirekisho") series of autobiographies. The series first appeared in The Nikkei in 1956. Since then, a wide variety of world-changing individuals have written or dictated their life stories for publication. The list includes Margaret Thatcher, Suharto, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir bin Mohamad, George W. Bush, Alan Greenspan, Jack Welch, Tom Watson and Seiji Ozawa.

Read more installments of My Personal History: Carlos Ghosn

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