"Le Cost Killer"

  • Carlos Ghosn gets the sort of adulation in Japan that is normally reserved for top athletes and rock stars. He has been made the superhero of a comic book — a coveted business honor. And in a poll of Japanese women, he was voted one of the top four men they would most want to father their children. Widely known as "Mr. Fix It," CEO Ghosn has lifted Nissan from near bankruptcy and in just four years has given it industry-leading profit margins, a debt-free balance sheet and a fleet of popular, critically acclaimed cars and trucks. He is leading the bold expansion by foreign carmakers eager to build more vehicles in the U.S. And he may soon get a chance at an even bigger challenge — as head of the slow-growing French automaker Renault.

    Born in Brazil of Lebanese parents and educated in France's elite engineering schools, the charismatic, bushy-browed, nattily dressed Ghosn is the quintessential global executive. He earned his reputation as a turnaround artist at Michelin, which dispatched him to fix ailing operations in South America and then gave him the job of restructuring Michelin North America after it bought Uniroyal in 1990. By the time Renault hired him and sent him to Tokyo to fix Nissan (which Renault controls), he had picked up five languages (Japanese is his sixth), a blunt decision-making style and a knack for blending corporate cultures.

    Ghosn, 49, is expected to stay at Nissan until 2005 and then to take over at Renault after its CEO, Louis Schweitzer, retires. Ghosn watchers expect him to fashion a hybrid as stylish as the French-Japanese restaurants found in Paris and Tokyo. The next generation of the Renault Clio, a small car sold in Europe, is slated to share the underpinnings of Nissan's March, and the next-generation Nissan Sentra will use Renault's Megane platform. Already, French journalists have given Ghosn a backhanded compliment, dubbing him "Le Cost Killer."