Will this engineer manage to fix Nissan?
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Gupta’s first big success at Nissan was leading the team that brought Datsun back to emerging markets.
Gupta’s first big success at Nissan was leading the team that brought Datsun back to emerging markets.

Another Indian now occupies a global corporate hot seat — and currently this seat is hotter than most.

Ashwani Gupta, 49, was Tuesday appointed Nissan Motor’s chief operating officer (COO), at a time the Franco-Japanese auto alliance — which had battled and escaped bankruptcy — is coping with the fallout of its once-revered boss Carlos Ghosn being investigated for financial misconduct.

And Nissan’s numbers won’t be any comfort for the new COO either. It saw a 99% fall in operating profit for the April-June quarter while net income slumped 95%, and it plans to fire over 12,500 workers. Renault, the French carmaker, is Nissan’s largest shareholder.

Gupta, a Dehradun native who did his school and college in India, is trained as an engineer and is a Harvard alumnus, and speaks French and Japanese. His language skills will need to be supplemented by all his experience in the auto industry, where he’s spent over 25 years.

Gupta told ET that the assignment is an “honour” and that given his “global automotive experience” he “would like to bring out the best for Nissan”. He will take up his assignment in January 2020.
Gupta was reportedly one of a hundred candidates considered. Japanese news organisation Nikkei said he was even considered for the CEO’s job.

‘New Management Faces Uphill Task’
The CEO’s job finally went to Makoto Uchida — head of Nissan’s China joint venture.

Those who know Gupta reckon he has what it takes for a tough job. His former boss at Renault India, Sylvain Bilaine, now CEO of SyB Consulting, told ET: “Gupta, a Renault guy (since 2005), isn’t a Frenchman, hasn’t been too exposed to Carlos Ghosn (in personal interactions) and reached the Csuite 10 years back… he is well placed to tackle Nissan’s management issues.”

Gupta’s first big success at Nissan was leading the team that brought Datsun back to emerging markets. After Datsun, he led Renault-Nissan’s global light commercial vehicle (LCV) business. When the alliance acquired a controlling stake in Mitsubishi, he was put in charge of Renault-Nissan-Mitsubishi’s LCV operations.

Bilaine added: “…I know that AG (Ashwani Gupta) is well accepted by his peers and colleagues, and will use 120% of his own resources to succeed.”
Will this engineer manage to fix Nissan?
People close to Gupta said his immediate goal is to bring Nissan back to profitable growth, improve brand image with compliance and governance, and leverage group synergies in the longer term.

Experts said the three major challenges facing Nissan are to keep the alliance alive, returning to profitability (volumes versus operating profit) and meeting future regulations, including electrification. VG Ramakrishnan, managing director at consultancy Avanteum Advisor, said the immediate priority for Gupta will be to restore faith and confidence among alliance partners and employees.

“Given the global challenges, the big question for Nissan is, where does it get its next phase of growth from? The company had a headstart on SUVs and electrification, but has lost its way in the past few years. There is a serious need to revamp its product portfolio and make it relevant to current times,” added Ramakrishnan.

Ravi Bhatia, president at automotive research and analytics firm JATO Dynamics India, said the new Nissan management faces an uphill task with the brand being hurt from all sides — sales, profitability, market share and branding.

“The company will have to undertake drastic cost-reduction measures … to be prepared to invest in demand and future technology. Also, the company needs to be open to alliances to leverage its strength, especially in electrification, to share risks and scale,” added Bhatia. Gupta wanted to be a doctor. Nissan will need all the healing touch he can provide.

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