uilding Cross-Cultural Leadership Competence:

An Interview With Carlos Ghosn

GÜNTER K. STAHL Vienna University of Economics and Business, and INSEAD

MARY YOKO BRANNEN Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, University of Victoria, and INSEAD

Carlos Ghosn is chairman and chief executive of- ficer of the Renault-Nissan Alliance, and he holds the same roles at both Renault and Nissan. Born in Brazil to Lebanese parents in 1954, Ghosn moved to Beirut when he was 6 years old, and he completed his primary education at a Jesuit school. He then earned engineering degrees from two of the most highly esteemed schools of higher education in France—École Polytechnique and the École des Mines de Paris, both noted for their highly selec- tive entrance exams. He holds French, Brazilian, and Lebanese citizenships.

Ghosn’s first job was at Michelin, Europe’s larg- est tire maker, where he worked for 18 years. He started in manufacturing and was rapidly pro- moted at 27 years old to plant manager in Le Puy, France, where he started honing his leadership skills. Industrial Scion François Michelin later asked him to turn around Michelin’s ailing South American division, naming Ghosn chief operating officer during Brazil’s inflationary economic crisis. After restoring the South American operations into

one of the company’s most successful divisions, Ghosn became the head of Michelin’s North Amer- ican unit and supervised a restructuring after the acquisition of American Uniroyal/Goodrich Tire Company. His skill in transforming troubled busi- nesses caught the attention of Louis Schweitzer, president of Renault, who asked Ghosn to become his second in command in 1996. When Renault acquired a large stake in Nissan in 1999, Schweitzer asked Ghosn to turn around the nearly bankrupt Japanese automaker.

His radical restructuring that returned Nissan to profitability earned Ghosn the nicknames “le cost killer” and “Mr. Fix It,” as well as Asia’s CEO of the Year Award (2001) from Fortune Magazine. The Renault-Nissan Alliance, a unique business plat- form in which each company helps the other and has mutual cross-shareholdings, is now the lon- gest surviving cross-cultural combination among major automakers. It has become the world’s third largest car group, after General Motors and Volks- wagen. The Alliance is responsible for more than one in 10 cars sold worldwide.

Ghosn is the recipient of Automotive News’ 2000 Industry Leader of the Year Award, the Strategic Management Society Lifetime Achievement Award (2012), and the INSEAD Transcultural Leadership Award (2008), which honors “an individual who exemplifies the importance and necessity of work- ing across borders.” Ghosn travels extensively and splits his time mainly between Paris and Tokyo. He also frequently visits his companies’ major mar-

We would like to thank Associate Editor Carolyn Egri and three anonymous reviewers for their valuable comments on earlier versions of this article. We also would like to thank Carlos Ghosn, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Renault and Nissan, for providing us with this generous interview opportu- nity, as well as Frédérique Le Greves, CEO Chief of Staff, Anja Wernersbach, Assistant to Chairman and CEO, and Masaaki Nishizawa, Head of Marketing and Sales Japan, Nissan, Motor Co. for their support. Final thanks go to Allan Bird, Mansour Javidan, and Martha Maznevski who provided thoughtful and enriching commentaries on our interview.

� Academy of Management Learning & Education, 2013, Vol. 12, No. 3, 494–502. http://dx.doi.org/10.5465/amle.2012.0246


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kets, including emerging economies of Brazil, Rus- sia, India, and China.

On June 14, 2012, Carlos Ghosn talked with Pro- fessors Mary Yoko Brannen and Günter K. Stahl about challenges in managing across borders, his multicultural background, the mind-set and skill sets that managers require to create cultural syn- ergies, and how global corporations can utilize their cultural diversity to build cross-cultural com- petence in individuals and teams. Following the interview, three leading cross-cultural manage- ment scholars and educators were invited to com- ment on selected issues and to place the interview in the context of existing research. These are Allan Bird, Darla and Frederick Brodsky Trustee Profes- sor in Global Business, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University; Mansour Javi- dan, Garvin Distinguished Professor and founding director of the Najafi Global Mindset Institute, Thunderbird School of Global Management; and Martha Maznevski, professor of organizational be- havior and international management and MBA program director at IMD.


Mr. Ghosn, you have been touted as a “leader without borders,” the “quintessential global executive,” and “multiculturalism’s poster boy”— and have even inspired a manga comic book in Japan, where your efforts to turn around and transform Nissan made you a Japanese hero. From your extensive experiences in managing across borders, how important is cross-cultural management education for global corporations such as Renault and Nissan today?

It is critical. More and more, managers are dealing with different cultures. Companies are going global, and teams are spread across the globe. If you’re head of engineering, you have to deal with divisions in Vietnam, India, China, or Russia, and you have to work across cultures. You have to know how to motivate people who speak different languages, who have different cultural contexts, who have different sensitivities and habits. You have to get prepared to deal with teams who are multicultural, to work with people who do not all think the same way as you do.

You have also talked about cultural differences as being a source of cultural synergies, as opposed to the general concern that they present barriers and impediments to doing business. In fact, in many teaching cases and anecdotal reports about the Nissan turnaround in the wake of the Renault-Nissan alliance, there have been examples of such synergistic outcomes. How do such synergies actually come about and, specifically, what kinds of cross-cultural skill sets do you look for in people that help foster these synergies in real life? Can you provide an example from the Renault-Nissan alliance?

I can give you many examples. A very prominent example is around the concept Japanese refer to as “monozukuri.”

[Note from the interviewers: Monozukuri literally means “making things.” However, rather than fo- cusing on the operational aspects of making things, the phrase embodies the concept of the spirit that energizes individuals to produce excel- lent products and continually improve them. Rather than mindless repetition, monozukuri relies on creativity and perseverance earned through lengthy apprenticeship practice rather than the structured course curricula taught at traditional schools. In that sense, monozukuri is art rather than science.]

We all know that monozukuri is a core compe- tence of Japan. And it’s embedded in the culture of Japan about how to work together coming from different functions for a specific objective. You have purchasing people working with engineer- ing, working with logistics, working with manufac- turing in order to get this car out of the door of the plant at the best quality and lowest cost possible. It’s not optimization by function; it’s an optimiza- tion as a whole by people coming together and, often in a disorganized manner, coming to a good conclusion. This is one area where culturally Nis-

You have to know how to motivate people who speak different languages, who have different cultural contexts, who have different sensitivities and habits. You have to get prepared to deal with teams who are multicultural, to work with people who do not all think the same way as you do.

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san and Renault are completely different. Obvi- ously, we as French absolutely do not have this culture. The synergies in this example are created by the fact that Renault, by trying to learn from a different culture, can advance a lot in terms of monozukuri. It translates into better quality and lower cost for the product by just having a com- pletely different approach. This is for me a great example of how cultural differences and having completely different approaches to the same prob- lem create synergies. In this case, Renault employ- ees are learning something that they could not have done by themselves, by just going and sitting down with monozukuri teams, by learning the pro- cesses of Nissan and implementing them in the Renault way back home.

I could give you lots of other examples where in one national or organizational culture something is a blind spot or weakness and in another culture it’s a strength, and by working together, synergy is created. We all know that the Japanese culture is very strong in engineering, very strong in manu- facturing, very weak in communication, and very weak in finance. The Renault culture generally is very strong in some of the places where the Nissan culture is weak—for example, in finance, in telling the company narrative, and in artistic and emo- tionally evocative advertising and marketing. That’s why I think the Renault-Nissan Alliance works so well—because the cultures are different, yet complementary.

Can you elaborate on how these cultural complementarities lead to synergies in the Renault-Nissan alliance?

The Japanese culture is very “sectionalist.” The principle of the “chimneys” that exists in France also exists in Japan, except that it’s called “sec- tions” in Japan. The Japanese are sectionalists; you have it in the Japanese bureaucracy, and we have it at Nissan. But the flip side of this is an incredible strength of community and common purpose— what I call “neighborhood collaboration.”

In Japan, the plant is a sacred place. If the plant manager calls all the functions to come to work around him, to help him optimize the product, they will come. Because there is a sense of community in Japan, there is a sense of collective purpose. It’s a community which has a sense that the car com- ing out of the plant is our car. They are proud of it, they want to come and help the plant manager do the best possible job. This is the essence of mono-

zukuri. The purchasing guys are going to contrib- ute, the engineering guys are going to contribute. They will overcome even the strongest sectional- ism because the one thing even more important than sectionalism is a shared sense of community and purpose. Monozukuri or other Japanese con- cepts, such as nemawashi have become key words of the Alliance. [Note from the interviewers: Nema- washi refers to collective project planning through cross-functional team input, advance communica- tion and consensus; literally, “preparing the roots of a tree for transplant”]. Even Renault people— people in France and those in Brazil, Morocco, and elsewhere—now talk about monozukuri and nema- washi, which they learned from their Japanese col- leagues. So, there are words which used to belong to one culture which now belong to the Alliance.

You have given us examples of synergies that result from optimizing the best of both worlds— what the French bring and what the Japanese bring. These kinds of cultural synergies might be said to come about naturally due to economies of scale. Another way to think of synergies is to think of them as economies of scope where there is colearning—something new for both parties arises from working together. Have you seen something like this that has emerged at Renault-Nissan?

Yes, for example the electric car. This is something that neither company could have done by itself— something that came about because the compa- nies are working together. Because we have the scale and we have the complementary skills and resources, we were able to pursue something com- pletely new to both. We have many projects that would have never been realized if each company had tried to do it alone. So, yes, synergy is not only what exists in one company or the other. It is not just about transferring best practices. It’s also about creating together something that neither one could have done alone.

[S]ynergy is not only what exists in one company or the other. It is not just about transferring best practices. It’s also about creating together something that neither one could have done alone.—Ghosn

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Let’s dig a little bit deeper into the competencies and the individual-level factors that enable such synergies to arise. You have said that what’s really important now is for managers to be prepared for working in multicultural teams, that they have to understand there are cultural differences and need to be able to not only overcome cultural barriers but to leverage cultural diversity. Could you discuss four or five competencies that you have observed in individuals that enable them to work effectively across cultures, and that companies operating in culturally diverse environments need to develop in their managers?

Working in a multicultural environment necessi- tates from the beginning a kind of thirst for learn- ing. If you don’t have a thirst for learning, if you think you know it all, and your system is the best, and you don’t even try, this is not going to work. That’s the most basic thing—that you want to learn more, develop your skills, broaden your horizon, and that you want to work in a multicultural envi- ronment because you are going to discover new things—about your business and also about your- self. The beauty of being in a multicultural envi- ronment is it eliminates your blind spots. When you are alone, there are parts of things you cannot see. But, if I am with you, you are going to see and tell me things I don’t know and I cannot see. So by working in a bigger group you get wider horizons.

But working within a diverse community is diffi- cult. A sense of humbleness is important. Arro- gance is one of the reasons for which many merg- ers or acquisitions in our industry didn’t work: You generally have one executive or one management team that is very arrogant, thinking that they know everything, and they are going to teach the others what they have to do. It doesn’t work this way. It’s always a “give and take,” and even the company that is weaker or smaller has a lot to teach the stronger company.

Let me give you an example from our industry. The American car industry collapsed in 2008 be- cause two car manufacturers went bankrupt and the third one barely escaped. These three compa- nies had joint ventures with Japanese partners. General Motors had a joint venture with Isuzu and Suzuki, Ford had Mazda, and Chrysler worked with Mitsubishi. The CEO of one of these American car

manufacturers told me one day: “I am amazed at how much the Renault-Nissan Alliance is exchang- ing, because we had these joint ventures for so many years but we didn’t learn from them, we didn’t take anything significant back home.” So the collaboration in this case didn’t contribute to effi- ciency or creativity.

Another thing that is extremely important in multicultural environments (it’s important every- where but particularly in a multicultural environ- ment) is what I call common sense. [Note from the interviewers: Mr. Ghosn uses the word “common” innovatively with the implication of building a shared basis for understanding as in a “common ground.”] When you don’t have common sense in a monocultural environment, you can escape. If you are in a multicultural environment you cannot es- cape, because what enables people of different cultures to work together is this common ground, nothing else. Because when you are of the same culture, let’s say Germans together, French to- gether, Japanese together, you can do a lot of things because you already have common ground, having been socialized in the same cultural con- text, so you have a basic understanding of each others’ habits and traditions, and each others’ lan- guage and history. But, when the French are sitting with Japanese, or with Germans, there is no way you are going to make a decision together without establishing common ground rooted in solid facts. Ultimately, this is the only common denominator. This is why I always strive to make decisions based on common sense—business logic and a shared understanding of all sides of the issue tak- ing into consideration everyone’s context, cultures, functions, and so on. The only way to make sound decisions in a multicultural environment is to use facts and common sense.

Are the competencies that you mentioned equally important at all levels of the organization?

Everybody has to be a manager of diversity, but especially senior executives because people al- ways look to the top. They look at the top and say, “OK, is he doing what he is saying?” If employees see top management talking about openness and learning—but they see an arrogant person who is closed down—they will not take it seriously. So the top management in a multicultural environment has an important role: They must walk the talk.

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It would seem that you are suggesting that authenticity and role modeling on the part of top managers are critical in creating a culture that values diversity.

Yes, authenticity is critical, particularly at top management level. When Renault people go to Japan to work with Japanese colleagues, that’s not their normal environment. When Japanese people come to work in the Renault Technical Center, that’s not their normal environment. Engineers from France and Japan think differently from each other. Their languages are different, their environ- ments are different. They need some common ref- erence, support, and guidance. They need a frame- work, and this is where top management plays a big role—setting priorities, representing the cul- ture, signaling what to do and what not to do.

The ability to find creative and mutually benefi- cial solutions is also important. For instance, we have a rule that we can never make a decision to pursue a project in which one side wins and the other side loses. Never—even if that means that ultimately the project is completed at a slightly slower pace than if we had imposed a top-down decision in which one team had to surrender. Some people don’t understand this. In particular, some outside observers have said, “Come on, you are slowing down the Alliance. There are so many opportunities. You should decide today to make a decision where Renault wins and Nissan loses, and tomorrow you can make a decision where Nis- san wins and Renault loses, and then everything’s going to be okay because, at the end of the day, everybody wins.” But this doesn’t work.

So, in your experience the capability of envisioning a “win–win” scenario for both parties is a critical cross-cultural skill set as well?

Yes. Understanding this issue is fundamental to understanding human nature: People, in the long run, always remember when they lose, and they always forget when they win in a relationship. So if you do the win–lose stuff, after one or two years you have a bunch of people who remember every time they lost. And then the relationship is going to burst.

This philosophy served us well in the Renault- Nissan Alliance. I have always believed that an alliance is about partnership and trust rather than power and domination. People will not give their best effort if they feel that their identities are being threatened. This relates back to what I said earlier if you are not able to establish some common ground, and if you do not believe anything can be learned from your partner, the venture is doomed from the beginning.

Just to review then, the desire to learn, knowing you have blind spots, humbleness, finding common ground, authenticity, and a win–win attitude are key competencies for effective cross- cultural interactions. Have we left anything out? Are there other skill sets that we might develop in managers to help them attain cross-cultural synergies?

Perhaps overall, a key quality that you need to possess—or develop, because you often don’t have it from the beginning—is mutual respect. This was a critical success factor in the Renault-Nissan Al- liance. Mutual respect means that you don’t focus on the weaknesses and limitations of your partner. You focus on the strengths. This is basic, but it allows a total change of atmosphere when instead of focusing on the weaknesses of your partner you try to see the partner’s strong points. Only then are you able to learn from your partner.

How do you instill this mind-set in your managers and employees?

It is a continuous battle, and you are never really “finished.” For instance, we have done a good job solidifying relations between Renault and Nissan, but now we are moving to expand our business model to include AvtoVAZ, which is Russia’s larg- est car company and the maker of the Lada brand. Even some of my best managers—ones who were at the beginning of the Renault-Nissan Alliance— need to be reminded about respect and tolerance and win–win relationships. I need to remind them,

The ability to find creative and mutually beneficial solutions is also important. For instance, we have a rule that we can never make a decision to pursue a project in which one side wins and the other side loses. Never—even if that means that ultimately the project is completed at a slightly slower pace than if we had imposed a top-down decision in which one team had to surrender.—Ghosn

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“You can’t impose your beliefs or processes. You need also to learn from the Russian team because they are our partners. We may have a 51% stake, but this is a partnership and we are here to make our partner more competitive—and ultimately that is how we are also going to make Renault and Nissan more competitive.” You constantly have to remind people that we are taking this approach because otherwise the tendency would be similar to a conventional acquisition where people say, “OK, we have 51% stake, we control it, so I want this place on the board, I want to put a controller here, I want to control these processes.” I always remind people that the CEO is Russian, the com- pany is Russian, the brand is Russian. The Rus- sians are in charge. You have to instill this mind- set from the beginning and then constantly reinforce it.

The next question is about distinguishing between what we call “culture-specific” skill sets and “culture-general” skill sets. For example, you yourself have exhibited strong culture-general skill sets in leading the Nissan recovery. From what we understand, you didn’t know that much about Japan at the time of the initial alliance. However, based on your Lebanese–Brazilian cultural origins—both what are known as “high- context” cultures where a great deal of attention is given to tacit and the relational aspects—you were able to leverage your pre-existing cultural knowledge to guide you. That is part of a culture- general skill set. A culture-specific one would be knowledge about Japanese customs and values that you can get from reading books about Japan, making a field trip to Japan, and so on. So, the question is, “Are you aware of the difference between culture-general and culture-specific skill sets?” And do you think they are complementary, or is one more important than the other?

I don’t think of it this way. Instead, you need to consider the situation that you are facing at the time, and you need to leverage the skills and ex- perience that you’ve acquired so far. When I ar- rived in Japan in 1999, Nissan faced a desperate situation and was close to bankruptcy. I knew I had to make significant, radical changes to turn it around—and to make these changes, I needed some culture specifics for credibility. I knew about the car industry, so that gave me some credibili- ty—more than if, for example, I had been in charge of a distribution company. I also had another thing

that I used to my advantage: I’m not Japanese. I’m a mixture of Brazilian and Lebanese, with a long history in France—so people don’t necessarily as- sociate me with any single culture. I might have met up with some fierce resistance if I were more characteristic of one particular background, whether it was Chinese or American or German. Why? Because people might think you are not lis- tening to them. People think you are trying to im- pose on them your preconceived ideas and culture. When you have a more vague, hybrid, multicul- tural background, people feel they have a chance to talk to you. They say, “He is going to listen, he is not taken by one particular concept or representing one particular culture.” So one of the things that I benefited from without knowing it—I discovered it only later—is that people did not see me as typical French. They saw me as a Franco-Brazilian- Lebanese guy. So, they said, “Hmm, he doesn’t come with a typical talk, with a particular ap- proach, he is more open.” That’s why I think em- bracing multiculturalism opens up more opportu- nities for you than if you operate in a monocultural world. So, back to your question: My background was probably a big asset for me. Being able to navigate in new cultural contexts, not being rigid or uncomfortable in unfamiliar surroundings, was absolutely fundamental.


We spoke about the mind-set and skill sets that are required for success in a culturally diverse environment. Let’s talk about how to develop these skills. In the HR development field the so- called 70-20-10 rule is now widely accepted. It holds that most learning comes from on the job experience and challenging assignments—that’s the 70%; a substantial proportion of learning— approximately 20%—comes from coaching, feedback, informal social learning, and formal training and education, that is, traditional management development programs, training seminars, and so on, contributes relatively little— only about 10%—to the development of leadership competences. This is not based on strong scientific evidence, but many companies have organized their leadership development activities around this principle. Do you agree with this rather pessimistic view of what can be

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achieved in management development programs? If classroom training contributes so little to the development of leadership competences, then how do you develop cross- cultural skills in managers?

Based on my own experience, I would tend to agree with the 70-20-10 rule. I am an engineer. I have never been to a business school. I have been trained in engineering in France, which is very formal, very technical, we barely spoke English, we didn’t have training in communication and in- terpersonal skills, nothing, only mathematics, physics, that kind of training. And I started my career as an engineer. But very quickly I moved to business and into management. I learned nearly everything “on the job” because the Michelin man- agement said, “Well, he has good people skills, he is interested, he can influence other people.” They moved me from manufacturing to business, and promoted me to management. But I had zero man- agement training. I was a pure on-the-job learner. I would have loved to get a solid education in business, but I never had the time or opportunity to go to a business school. So, in my case, I would say, it’s even more than 70-20-10; it’s 80-20-0. It was a lot of learning on the job, and from time to time having the opportunity to learn from a boss that I trusted and respected.

By the way, in terms of learning from the boss, I generally learned more from his mistakes than from his teachings. When you see someone that you respect doing something wrong, well, then you say, “I’ll never do that.” Does that mean that the 10%—formal training and education—is not impor- tant? No, I think academic learning is very impor- tant. For my kids, I am encouraging them to take the time and go to Stanford, Harvard, INSEAD, or others. And the 10% part of the equation is also important for management development. Why? Be- cause you can accelerate your learning by taking a little bit of distance from the day-to-day-work and thinking with peers who have different experience about what you are going through. I probably would have benefited a lot from formal manage- ment training, but I didn’t have this luxury.

From your experience, what are the best approaches and practices to increase cultural awareness and prepare managers for working in a multicultural environment?

Exposure and on the job training are very impor- tant here. You have to be working in a multicul- tural environment or put in a situation where you have to overcome cultural barriers. If you are lucky enough to get an overseas position at a multicul- tural company, then you will quickly develop some international management skills. But extracting yourself from time to time, learning some useful frameworks and tools, and having the opportunity to reflect on some of the notions which are the fruit of the experience of others, that’s very helpful, too. Instead of only learning from your own mistakes, you can then also learn from the mistakes of other people. That’s the value of business school educa- tion. So I am very positive about what you [busi- ness schools] are doing, even though I didn’t have the privilege to do it.

Can we dig a little deeper here? What would you say are the most effective ways to help people develop those intercultural skills that we talked about earlier? Traditional cross-cultural management courses, as they are taught at business schools, are certainly of value. But we all agree that global leaders cannot be developed in the classroom. Obviously, sending people on international assignments is a powerful leadership development tool, but it is not always possible. Are there any alternatives to sending people abroad for training?

You can get some good multicultural management skills by working on international projects inside of many organizations, even if you are based in your own country. Some people are mobile to go abroad, some people are not. If you are not, be- cause you have family constraints or health con- straints, or for whatever reason, you can still have international exposure and a multicultural experi- ence just by working on a project which involves people from other countries, or involves people of different companies. You can be based in Paris and have a job in which you only work with French people, and only with French people who are en- gineers and who went to the same school as you did. Or you could be in Paris, sitting at your own desk but working with colleagues who are Rus- sian, Japanese, or Brazilian, working with people from sales and finance and engineering, and com- munication. I would encourage people to take these types of challenging assignments—those that have international flavor and cross-cultural contact.

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Also, encouraging people to learn other lan- guages is important; getting them out of their com- fort zone with their own language can have a big learning effect. Encouraging people to travel, whenever it’s possible, go and see on the ground how things are. So, all these small things where you take people out of their comfort zone allow you to develop their multicultural skills. That’s for me something extremely important, that’s what we try to do at Renault and Nissan. Obviously you cannot travel all over the place for development purposes, you have to do it in a way which makes busi- ness sense.

But the key point is to get people out of their comfort zone, learn new languages, travel to dif- ferent countries, go to places where you don’t un- derstand the culture, and expose yourself to situa- tions where you have to deal with uncertainty. All of this helps you to put yourself in the shoes of people who are different from you. This is particu- larly important if you are a German working for a German company, or a Frenchman working for a French company. If you work in a monocultural environment, you have to find some other way to immerse yourself in other cultures or subcultures, to put yourself in Turkish shoes or in Korean shoes or in Brazilian shoes. You are going to work much better with these people when they come and visit you.

How much do you think your own multicultural background has shaped your ability to work effectively in cross-cultural environments?

Let’s put it this way, in regard to your 70–20–10% rule, I would say 90% of my cross-cultural learning has come from real-life experience. Because I didn’t learn about multiculturalism in a book. I was born in Brazil and I lived in a city where we had people from Poland, from Italy, from England.

My childhood was in Lebanon and I had friends who were Jews, Muslims, Christians. . . It was a melting pot, and I could see as a child the difficulty of blending these different people, but I also saw the beauty and the wealth which was created by it. I could see it! I had the same thing in Lebanon where you had people of different origins and dif- ferent religions fighting each other, battling against each other, but at the same time so at- tached to their shared identity as a Lebanese com- munity even though they were at war. They were very proud of being Lebanese even though they were Sunni, Christians, Druze, or Jews, and I didn’t read it from a book. It was a life-training. So, when you come out of this environment you know that diversity can be a threat, or it can be an asset, depending how you manage it, what you do with it, and what is the purpose of it. I think that when you have different people coming together, if you don’t give them a collective purpose, if you don’t give them a project, there’s going to be chaos. Putting diverse people together without the same vision or the same purpose creates chaos . . . you are simply going to create conflict.

We would like to bring the interview to a close with a question that is directed toward the future of cross-cultural learning. As the economy goes from West to East, and from North to South, one of the things that we reflect upon is the applicability of Western models of management in other cultures. We are teaching Western linear logic, and in terms of cross-cultural management, we are teaching more the cross-cultural comparisons that are binary, like the French are like this, the Japanese are like this. This is the predominant mode of teaching about cross- cultural management. What kind of changes are needed in terms of how we go about teaching cross-cultural management? Do you think we need to adjust this kind of logic?

No, frankly, I think this way of teaching cross- cultural management is quite appropriate. It’s like at school: You have physics classes and you have literature and other subjects, and they are all part of a comprehensive learning plan. How do you teach physics? In teaching physics, you caricature reality, you put it in an equation and you teach people the most important equations and how to apply them. That does not reflect the real world, but helps to understand it. This is useful. And in cross-cultural management education, when you

But the key point is to get people out of their comfort zone, learn new languages, travel to different countries, go to places where you don’t understand the culture, and expose yourself to situations where you have to deal with uncertainty. All of this helps you to put yourself in the shoes of people who are different from you.—Ghosn

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say the Japanese are like this, the French are like this, obviously this is not an accurate reflection of the reality, but you are helping people to under- stand by giving them simplification, a caricature of reality. You reduce the complexity of the reality to manageable proportions. People need this; if you don’t start by simplifying, it gets too compli- cated, it’s overwhelming, and they don’t know where to start. It is the same in physics, in chem- istry. . . you need to do this caricature, you need to say the Japanese are process-oriented, the Japa- nese are community people, they prefer an indirect style of communication, and so on. Not all Japa- nese are like this, but you need to say Japanese are X, French are Y, and Americans are Z. This is a caricature, but it’s like an equation. The equation does not give an accurate picture of reality, but it helps you understand some general rules related to reality.

Now, after you have a physics class with all these equations then you go to the literature class, and in literature it is all about exceptions that are confirming the rules, and these are the things that make it completely different and rich and complex, and it helps you understand the world from a new perspective. Again, it is not always an accurate picture of reality, it is sometimes distorted and exaggerated and sometimes it’s total fiction. But you’ll learn about life and about the world.

So, coming back to your question, I think you need both: You need to draw a caricature of reality to attract students’ attention and to simplify. Be- sides, it’s human nature to want to simplify: People

love caricatures and can understand them—and frankly, they know that they aren’t always true. But they are a simple, easy to digest starting point. By contrast, if you start with very complicated stuff, even though it’s closer to reality, people get over- whelmed or bored. They shut down. Why? Because they don’t have a reference point to understand fully what you are saying. So, in cross-cultural management education, you need both: Start by simplifying, then paint a more complex picture of reality.

Thank you for granting this interview. It will make a real contribution to advancing the frontiers of cross-cultural management learning and education.

Comments on the Carlos Ghosn Interview

In the papers that follow, three leading cross- cultural management scholars and educators were invited to comment on selected issues and to place the interview in the context of existing research. These include Allan Bird, Darla and Frederick Brodsky Trustee Professor in Global Business, D’Amore-McKim School of Business, Northeastern University; Mansour Javidan, Garvin Distin- guished Professor and founding director of the Na- jafi Global Mindset Institute, Thunderbird School of Global Management; and Martha Maznevski, professor of organizational behavior and interna- tional management and MBA program director at IMD.

Günter K. Stahl is professor of international management at WU Vienna and adjunct professor of organizational behavior at INSEAD. He received his PhD from the University of Bayreuth, Germany, and was a visiting professor at the Fuqua School of Business, Northeastern Uni- versity, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and Hitotsubashi University, among others. Stahl’s research interests include leadership and leadership development; corporate social responsibility and ethics; and the sociocultural processes in international teams, alliances, mergers and acquisitions, and how to manage people and culture effectively in those contexts.

Mary Yoko Brannen is professor of international business and holds the Jarislowsky East Asia (Japan) Chair at the University of Victoria Gustavson School of Business. She received her MBA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Brannen’s current research focuses on knowledge sharing across distance and the role of biculturals in MNCs.

502 SeptemberAcademy of Management Learning & Education

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