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 / Second Quarter 1997 / Issue 7(originally published by Booz & Company)


Conceptual Re-engineering at Nissan

Before I could lead this work, however, I had to go through my own transformation ...


From my days in college, I began to realize I was noticeably drawn to contrasts. For example, I enjoyed the directness and solvability of my math major courses, but I was equally intrigued by the obliqueness and conundrums in my philosophy minor courses.

One philosophical argument I remember was the one about whether pleasure is a feeling in and of itself, or if it is simply the absence of pain. That question can be argued persuasively from either side (as most philosophical arguments can), and how you view it may depend on your perspective or point of view.

Which is a good segue to the contrasting opinions we deal with daily in our business:

Our business is simple / Our business is complex.

The consumers want value, and a good "deal" / What they really want is respectful service.

We have to make demand equal to supply / We ought to make supply equal to demand.

Employees want empowerment / Employees want direction.

Your competitors are your enemies / Your competitors are your partners.

Your products define your brand / Your brand defines your products.

Stability and consistency are the keys / Change and flexibility are the keys.

The foregoing examples are the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the contrasts -- even paradoxes -- in our industry. Each of those points can be argued intelligently and persuasively, and often are -- even at the same time. What gives a chief executive officer the ability and courage to pick a path through the contrasting choices? Especially if the path is one that puts the status quo at risk?

We are probably all -- good or bad -- products of our parental, neighborhood, societal and business environments and upbringing, and I'm no exception. I grew up with simple Midwestern values and naïveté about the hardships of urban life and big business. My views were later broadened and hardened by a three-year assignment with the Ford Motor Company in the New York City area during the destructive automotive recession of the early 80's. In all, I have 25 years of automotive experience, mostly working for manufacturers, but with a stint in the mid-80's on the retailing side that gave me a real understanding of, and respect for, the franchised retailers of our products.

I never really thought much about how to approach the future, but if you had asked me, I would have said that I just assumed that what I had learned in those 25 years would be what I would need to know to get through the next several years.

Was I ever wrong! The changes in the industry I described above were just some of the many stimuli that accumulated and eventually contributed to my own transformation. That shift occurred for the most part over a two-week period approximately a year ago, as I catalogued all that I knew, all that I believed in, those new things that challenged my beliefs and knowledge and those new things that validated them. Once I became sensitized to the changes going on all around me, I was bombarded by them, proving once again the truth of the adage, "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."

An example: One day, I read a list of the top 20 TV shows and realized I had never heard of most of them, let alone watched them. It really surprised me that I had become that out of touch with what entertained the public.

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