A little more than five years ago, Nissan CEO Carlos Ghosn took to the pages of one of Canada’s largest newspapers to publicly scold his Canadian dealers.
“Our market share is absolutely unacceptable for the kinds of products we are offering in the Canadian market,” he told the Globe and Mail on Dec. 1, 2011.
At the time, Nissan held five per cent market share in Canada. It wanted 10 per cent.
“It’s engagement, it’s commitment and I’m talking about the whole team in Canada,” he told the paper. “I’m not singling out one person. I’m saying the whole team in Canada is not delivering. It’s not.”
Ghosn joined Nissan in 1999 from France’s Renault SA and became Nissan’s CEO two years later. After 16 years at the top, he announced Wednesday that he would be stepping down effective April 1.
But the message he publicly sent in 2011 was heard loud and clear by those on the ground in Canada.
“Carlos shook our foundation when he came out and called us out on the carpet,” said Jarrett Morrey, chair of the Nissan Canada advisory board. “We turned away from being a follower to becoming more of a leader in the market.”
Since the time he lashed out, Nissan Canada Inc., including the Infiniti brand, has increased its market share to 6.9 per cent, short of Ghosn’s goal of 10 per cent but above the 5.3 per cent it held in 2011.
“He was not shy in pointing out his expectation and disappointment,” Morrey said, noting that Ghosn followed up his public criticism in 2011 with internal communications shortly after.
The automaker sold about 50,000 vehicles in Canada in 2013, the year in which market share began to climb, and about 140,000 units in 2016.
“We’ve grown exponentially,” Morrey said.
Morrey met Ghosn twice. The last time was during a gathering in Nashville in 2015 when Ghosn met privately and one-on-one with advisory chairs for 45 minutes each.
“He’s one of the smartest gentlemen I’ve ever met,” Morrey said.
He’s also prepared.
“You have to be very on your game in order to have a conversation with him. If you quote numbers that aren’t quite on par with what reality when you’re trying make a point, he’ll correct you very quickly,” Morrey said. “At the same time, if you present a solid business plan, backed up by specific numbers, market share or production numbers, he’s very responsive.”
Morrey called communication with Nissan’s upper management under Ghosn “a two-way street.”
Morrey said Ghosn encouraged his staff to glean information directly from dealers.
“Carlos said, “If you’re going to make high demands of your dealer body you have to speak directly to them. It can’t be in the form of a memo,’” Morrey said. “The relationship was very personal but with that came demands and expectations. There was no hiding.”