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Carlos Ghosn at a Renault plant
Carlos Ghosn

Carlos Ghosn (8) On to a new adventure at Renault

After 18 years at Michelin, Ghosn accepts offer to help revive French carmaker

Edouard was the youngest son of Francois Michelin. When he arrived to work for me, I put him in charge of our critically important truck-tire manufacturing and sales departments. His good manners and respect for U.S. customs earned him an excellent reputation among his colleagues.

Because Michelin was a family-owned business, it was assumed that Edouard would succeed his father. As such, I never expected I would reach the very top of the company -- I did not have the right last name.

In 1996, after about seven years of working in the U.S., there was a major restructuring of the business. I was put in charge of our global tire operations for passenger cars and small trucks, and served as the president of the North America office. Essentially, I had climbed to the No. 2 position.

But would I be happy to stay in that position forever, knowing I couldn't climb higher? I wasn't so sure. So when I received a call from a headhunter, an alumnus of the Ecole Polytechnique, I agreed to meet. Over dinner, he asked if I was interested in the automotive industry. Renault was looking for a No. 2 who could eventually rise to be the top executive. He arranged a meeting between me and Renault Chairman Louis Schweitzer.

At 8 a.m., I met with Schweitzer for an hour and a half at Renault headquarters in Boulogne-Billancourt, a suburb of Paris. He mentioned that the company's second-in-command was about to retire, and he was looking for a potential successor. He said I was their top candidate.

My main motivation for taking the job at Renault wasn't the prospect of one day running the company. Rather, I was interested in the opportunity to study new things and take on new challenges. I had always been interested in cars and complex products that required teams of people and supply chains to work in close coordination.

After a board meeting, I notified Francois about the meeting with Schweitzer and my intention to leave Michelin. For a moment he seemed surprised, but then he said simply, "Please let Edouard know."

After 18 years at Michelin, my heart was heavy at the thought of leaving -- both the company and Francois. I have always remembered the strength of his vision, his humility and the sincere kindness he extended to me. In fact, he was one of the first to recognize the power of Japanese companies on his own.

Many years later, I was reunited with him at Renault. He asked how I was doing, and I told him I was well. He resigned in 1999, and Edouard, as expected, took his place. Francois Michelin passed away in 2015 at the age of 88. There is a lot of him in me.

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

Read more installments of My Personal History: Carlos Ghosn

 

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