Two routes to improving your balance sheet

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Turning a struggling company into a success is never straightforward and there is no magic formula to follow. But the first thing to do is work out what the problem is.

As part of the series The Ideas Exchange, the BBC brings together Carlos Ghosn from Renault-Nissan and Vineet Nayar from IT services firm HCL Technologies to discuss their different approaches to running a global business.

When Carlos Ghosn arrived as chief executive at Japanese carmaker Nissan in 1999, the problem was obvious. The company had debts of more than $20bn (now worth£12.4bn) that needed to be addressed.

He began by cutting thousands of jobs and renegotiating contracts. Although he was far from popular with the workforce, it took him only a year to turn Nissan's near-bankruptcy to profit, earning him the respect of a nation for saving their national symbol.

Mr Ghosn now leads both Nissan and French carmaker Renault, but his saving of the Japanese firm remains one of his proudest achievements and what he hopes he will be remembered for.

Renault-Nissan Alliance

  • An industrial and commercial partnership between global car companies Renault and Nissan
  • Alliance established: 1999
  • HQ: Paris, France and Yokohama, Japan
  • Combined revenue of more than $170bn (£105bn)
  • Combined number of employees: 300,000
  • The world's fourth-largest automotive group invested $6bn in the development and creation of a wholly electric range of cars

"If they remember [me] they [will] say, 'This is a guy who turned around Nissan,' which undoubtedly was a company going to bankruptcy in 1999," he says.

Vineet Nayar's method of improving a company's balance sheet starts with the workers too. But he is not looking to cut their numbers - he wants to have more.

Since 2005, Mr Nayar has been chief executive of HCL Technologies. What started as a garage start-up on the outskirts of Delhi in 1976 has grown into a global IT services company serving clients from plane manufacturer Boeing to pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and generating revenue of $4.2bn.

360-degree appraisal

He puts the company's success - measureable in the six-fold rise in revenue and tripling of the workforce to 90,000 people under his leadership - down to a simple mantra: "Employees first, customers second".

HCL

  • Global IT services company
  • Established: 1976
  • HQ: Noida, India
  • Revenue: $4.2bn (£2.6bn)
  • Number of employees: 90,000
  • The company was described by Fortune magazine as having "the world's most modern management"

"The business of managers and management should be to enthuse, encourage [and] enable those employees to create a definite value, hence 'employees first, customers second'," he says.

This philosophy manifests itself in the entire workforce carrying out Mr Nayar's appraisal.

"We have a digital engine where my 360-degree appraisal is anonymously given by 90,000 employees across 32 countries and the results are published on the portal for all employees to see," he says.

"To demonstrate that I mean 'employee first' I have to be willing to be humiliated or to learn from the feedback and correct myself.

"In the end the customer won. And how did the customer demonstrate it? By giving us more business."

'Pioneer'

About the series

Ideas Exchange
  • Eight-part series on TV and online
  • It pairs up global business leaders to discuss today's business landscape and their secrets to success
  • Find out what they have to say with features online
  • And watch each weekend from 1 September on BBC World News, Saturdays at 02:30 or 15:30, and Sundays at 09:30 or 21:30 (all times GMT)

Mr Ghosn does not face the same scrutiny from his employees, but his industry often finds itself in the line of fire, with carmakers accused of causing global warming. He denies that the industry is solely responsible but admits that it is one of the causes.

"At least we admit it," he says. "We are part of the problem, we need to be part of the solution."

His vision for both Nissan and Renault, and for the car industry more generally, is one in which new technologies, particularly the electric car, play a key role.

He hopes that he will also be remembered as "the main pioneer of mass-market zero-emission cars".

He and Mr Nayar may work in completely different fields but the two men agree that business opportunities always come from adversity.

As Mr Ghosn puts it: "Adversity or unseen needs or people think something is not possible and all of a sudden you come and you bring a solution."

The Ideas Exchange is an eight-part series, starting on 1 September, broadcast on BBC World News on Saturdays at 02:30 and 15:30, and Sundays at 09:30 and 21:30 (all times GMT).

Every week, two international business leaders meet to talk about their different experiences of global markets and business.

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