December 19, 2012
Learning to Lead
Dec. 19 – Tokyo – Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn spoke on global leadership Wednesday at the University of Tokyo, and assembled students and alumni heard his views on the possible outlook for Japan’s future leaders and country.
After the session, the Nissan CEO chatted with the Global Media Center on leadership and Japan.
You’ve just spoke with some of Japan’s best and brightest students on leadership, many of whom, as part of the younger generation, will shoulder heavy burdens in coming decades due to the rapidly-aging society. What are your impressions and thoughts on their future?
Carlos Ghosn CEO:
The main element of this discussion was to tell them that nobody is born a global leader. Nobody has a global talent. Everything is being produced through time, through education, through experience.
I want to attract attention to the fact that maybe 5% of the job for them is to get a good academic background. That’s a very important 5%, but it’s only 5%. And 95% is the development they’re going to have through their jobs. That’s a lot of everything that the company will need from them, which is mainly learned during their first years of working.
This means that in their academic years, they need to learn how to learn. That’s the most important thing. And when they go to the company, they do and they learn at the same time. They’re going to have a lot of challenges. Young Japanese people are going to have a lot of challenges into the future. But instead of this being stressing, on the contrary, it should be very dynamic. It should be encouraging. It should be motivating. It’s a great opportunity to make a lot of changes, because changes are needed.
Is Japan ready to accept younger corporate or political leadership? Looking at today’s audience at one of Japan’s most renown universities, what role will women play in its leadership?
I think today, younger leaders are necessary because they are the element of change – and usually change is needed. Usually when companies do not perform well, they have to change, and this can come from younger people.
At the same time, diversity is very important. And that’s why the role of women is very important. It’s going to increase, not only because of the demographic reasons – the demography of Japan is today declining, which means that Japan needs all the human resources that it can count on, and women are a very important, still untapped resource in Japan.
Also, the market requires much more female input, in terms of product design, engineering, and even manufacturing and distributing the product.
So, I think change will come, and it will come particularly supported by young people. And also supported by a higher level of diversity.
Fewer Japanese are going abroad to foreign universities than in years past. What could be the impact on leadership ahead? Could more leaders come from abroad, such as yourself?
I don’t think it’s needed to go abroad. What is important is to be exposed to the global life. And thanks to the explosion due to the Web and the fact that you can be in Japan and connect to the rest of the world, going to foreign countries today is less important than it used to be 20 years ago, because we have the technology to be connected.
At the same time, I don’t think that you can be global by just staying in your home. At a certain point in time you need to go outside. But if you don’t go outside by going and following studies outside, you can do it within your career. But being in a company in Japan, for example, and working in a function or department that is exposed to foreign operations is for me as important as being in a foreign operation. Because dealing with people, with projects, which are going to be executed, implemented and developed in foreign countries, you’re going to learn maybe not as much, but not far from being expatriated in this country.
Again, make no mistake, nothing replaces the experience of going (abroad) at a certain point and time in your life, outside to live and participate in a project. But I think that now it’s needed less than before. Because you have all this interaction you can have with foreign people, with diverse people, staying in your own country, because we are all dealing with the global market.
In the wake of the Japanese election and speaking from a CEO’s perspective, if a potential partner of Nissan or Renault had changed its leadership every year for six years, would you consider the company viable to do business with? What does frequent change at the top mean?
I think the partners of the company do not care in a certain way. Frankly, they don’t care who is at the top. They need the company to perform well. That’s all they need. But it matters for the employees, in a certain way, to have a clear vision, to have clear guidance, to have clear decisions, to have clear arbitrage, to have clear processes. And usually this is assured with some sort of stable leadership.
The people who suffer the most from a high turnover of leaders are usually the people who are the constituents of the company or the constituents of the country. But for partners, as long as the company is doing well, they don’t care.