When the financial results of our recovery were released, Japanese society began seeing Nissan Motor in a new light. As the now CEO and president of this success story, I was graciously welcomed everywhere I went. I received requests for interviews and speeches, and I even appeared on a couple of talk shows. Suddenly even our local yakitori restaurant, one of my family's favorite hangouts, was swarmed with cameras. The attention was new to me, but I didn't let it distract me from the ongoing work. Recovery is a continuous process.
Nissan's financial performance was on the upswing. At the same time, we were restructuring and adopting a fresh growth strategy, which included construction of our Mississippi plant in the U.S., which now produces large pickup trucks and is a backbone of Nissan's growth. It was time to move to the next phase.
The next medium-term management plan was called Nissan 180. Each number had a meaning.
The "1" signified our target of increasing sales by 1 million units worldwide by 2005. The "8" stood for the 8% or better operating margin -- the highest level in the industry -- to which we aspired. And the "0" indicated our goal of zero interest-bearing debt. We've kept up the practice of using numbers in the names of our medium-term plans, including the current one, Nissan Power 88, which runs through March 2017. To me, numbers provide a common language that can effectively communicate the management's vision to all employees.
There is another reason we focus on numbers. One of the differences between Japanese and French cultures is how decisions are made and executed. In France, we come to decisions quickly, but the execution can take a variety of directions, because the decision is open to interpretation. In Japan, it takes longer to come to a decision, but once it's made, action is uniform and swift. So the best way to achieve a target is to make sure it is specific.
Another cultural difference is that in Japan, there is a high level of deference for the rule of seniority. While I think it is important to respect seniority, it should not be in the form of discrimination against young people. A wage and promotion system based solely on seniority produces negative effects. Rather, people should be evaluated on the results of their work and their contribution to the company. To me, it's about performance. That is why Nissan introduced an incentive system that rewards financial performance at management levels.
We are continuing with these changes to ensure that younger employees and women are empowered with opportunities. After all, I was given big responsibility at a young age, and that is the reason I am where I am today. In these ways, Nissan's revival is still ongoing. But by 2003, at least financially, we had fully recovered.
Carlos Ghosn is chairman and CEO of Nissan Motor Co. Ltd.
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