The adage “the higher they rise, the harder they fall” has never seemed more apt than in the case of Carlos Ghosn, the once almighty titan of the automobile world. After the time of the Italian giant Gianni Agnelli, no senior car industry leader could attain the level of incredible success and prominence that the Brazilian-born French executive of Lebanese descent managed in the last four decades. And unfortunately, not many successful, high-profile leaders of our time have fallen from grace as spectacularly as Ghosn did this week.
Carlos Ghosn is a classic example of what’s described as “the genius-to-folly syndrome” which prompts extremely brilliant and successful individuals to commit acts of idiocy that negate all the great work that they did over decades on their way to the top. Starting his career in 1978 at Michelin, Ghosn moved to Renault in 1996, where he masterminded a turnaround that won him the moniker “Le Cost Killer.” And once the French carmaker formed an alliance with the then ailing Nissan in 1999, Ghosn used his tactical acumen to rescue the Japanese automaker from the brink of bankruptcy. Soon hailed as a superstar not just in the automotive industry but in the wider world of global business, he consolidated his position as the absolute authority at both these brands, and drawing remuneration packages hitherto unheard of in the industry.
This week, an internal investigation done by Nissan revealed that Ghosn has been engaging in serious financial misconduct including under-reporting his compensation by millions of dollars for several years and personal use of company assets. Arrested by Japanese authorities, Carlos Ghosn faces the inevitable prospect of being ousted from his roles in Nissan, Renault as well as Mitsubishi which joined the alliance recently.
A dramatic, abrupt downfall indeed for one of the greatest business leaders of our era.