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There was substance behind Carlos Ghosn’s style, but his legacy will be defined by his hubris

August 8, 2022, 9:58 AM UTC
Updated August 8, 2022, 2:55 PM UTC
Carlos Ghosn, former Nissan chief executive officer, center, prepares to speak during a news conference at the Holy Spirit University of Kaslik (USEK) in Jounieh, Lebanon, on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2020.
Carlos Ghosn, former Nissan CEO, prepares to speak at a news conference at Holy Spirit University of Kaslik in Jounieh, Lebanon, in September 2020.
Hasan Shaaban—Bloomberg/Getty Images

Good morning.

As someone who has spent hundreds of hours interviewing CEOs, I have a soft spot for Carlos Ghosn. He was always colorful, confident, charismatic. And there was substance behind his style. His remarkable turnaround of Nissan earned him a place in Japanese superhero comics. His early push for the electric car should earn him a place in history. And his unique, multi-continent leadership marked a high point in business globalization. During a wide-ranging interview a decade ago, he told me this about the difference between managing Japanese and French employees:

“Being a CEO in a Japanese company, it is absolutely remarkable, because you have the impression you can do anything you want. People are so deferent to authority, to what the CEO says…I’m coming from a Latin environment, where if you give an order people tell you yes, and they do something different…In a Latin environment, you are less careful, because you know anyway people are not going to follow.”

It turned out, of course, that his Japanese colleagues were less deferential than he thought. They conspired to have him arrested for misuse of corporate funds, setting the stage for his renowned jailbreak. 

All this is brilliantly told in a new book out tomorrow titled Boundless: The Rise, Fall, and Escape of Carlos Ghosn, by Nick Kostov and Sean McLain. I took a review copy to the beach last week and can recommend it as a highly engaging read. But I also came away with a sense of sadness that Ghosn’s legacy will be defined, not by his numerous and remarkable business successes, but by his hubris, his relentless appetite for money and power, his cavalier use of corporate resources, and his spectacular flight from justice. One lesson for those who follow: Renting out Versailles for the corporate party is not a good look.

The book’s authors interviewed Ghosn from his exile in Lebanon, and report that he has no regrets…save one: not grabbing the top job at General Motors when it was offered in 2009.

More news below. And worth noting this morning that Eli Lilly—the second-largest company in Indiana—came out strongly against the state’s comprehensive abortion ban, saying it will hinder the company’s “ability to attract diverse scientific, engineering, and business talent from around the world” and will lead Lilly “to plan for more employment growth outside our home state.”

Alan Murray


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This edition of CEO Daily was edited by David Meyer.

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