January 25, 2017 2:30 am JST
My Personal History

Carlos Ghosn (24) Friends in high places

Ghosn's network of global connections has helped Nissan-Renault reach its goals

Carlos Ghosn got to know Russian President Vladimir Putin through Nissan-Renault's investment in Russian automaker Avtovaz.

When you've been in business as long as I have, you build a global network of contacts and receive invitations to events dealing with global issues. For example, I always look forward to attending the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, held every January. I participated in this meeting for the first time in 1998.

After the Nissan Revival Plan proved successful, I received another invitation, this time from Klaus Schwab, the founder and chairman of the World Economic Forum. He wanted me to become a member of the board of trustees. This was an exciting opportunity, as I was still in my 40s at the time, and this position would make it possible for me to hear from and talk with many of the world's political and economic leaders. This month, I returned to Davos to exchange views on current challenges in business and economic policy.

Davos is not just about the connections, but the content of the conversations. It is focused on mobilizing global leaders to take action and make commitments to improve the world. Being in the automotive industry gives me a unique perspective on these issues. Much of the technology we are developing -- from autonomous driving to electric vehicles -- is going to benefit society beyond our customers. For example in Japan, there is growing concern about car accidents, especially with the increase in older drivers on the road. Autonomous driving will be one solution to the problem of unsafe elderly drivers. This is where technology matches social needs, and Davos gives me an additional global platform to discuss these opportunities.

Government officials often become important partners in reaching business objectives. This was true, for example, in the case of Great Britain, where we celebrated the 30th anniversary of our Sunderland plant in 2016. The plant, based in Sunderland, in northeast England, employs more than 7,000 people and is a significant contributor to the national and local economies. Because of our role as a major employer, I've exchanged ideas frequently with British prime ministers, including Tony Blair, Gordon Brown and David Cameron. I also had the opportunity to visit them at No. 10 Downing Street, and Tony Blair was a frequent visitor to our factory in Sunderland, his home electoral district.

I have continued this positive association with the current prime minister, Theresa May. When Brexit became a potential issue concerning the competitiveness of Sunderland, we had an open conversation and quickly reached an understanding.

And then there is Russia. Renault invested in Russia's largest automaker, Avtovaz, in 2008, as did Nissan Motor in 2012, and we have been able to build a good relationship with the Russian government in the process. When we decided to seek a 25% stake in Avtovaz to restructure the automaker, we were competing against two other companies who offered bids, and Renault came out on top. Russian President Vladimir Putin told me the reason was because he trusted us the most to keep the Russian identity of Avtovaz's Lada brand. When he was re-elected president in 2012, Nissan's investment in the Russian automaker was decided: Avtovaz became part of the Nissan-Renault Alliance.

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

Read more installments of My Personal History: Carlos Ghosn

See recent articles on the auto industry at Auto Industry Upheaval

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