Randy Knight | Crain's Baltimore

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Randy Knight


The manufacturer of Nissan, Infiniti and Datsun car brands was founded by Yoshisuke Aikawa in 1933 in Yokohama, Japan. Nissan’s North American headquarters is located in Franklin, Tenn., just south of Nashville. Nissan has more than 200,000 employees and its cars are sold in 20 countries.

The Mistake:

I have debated whether I should tell this story because it’s embarrassing. It’s hurtful.

I started out as a technician at Nissan and about three years into working here, I became an area manager. I thought I was going to change the way Nissan was doing business. I was hard-charging and overbearing. I didn’t accept excuses. I came in like a lion and within the first six months, I was having all kinds of personnel issues. I would time people when they went to the restroom.

During a night shift, I got an emergency phone call from my HR department. I needed to get an urgent message to one of our employees that his daughter was on the way to the hospital, fixing for the delivery of his first grandchild.

I was so focused on the particular business at hand that I never gave him the message.

On Sunday night, he came in and said, “Hey, how are you doing? What kind of weekend did you have?”

I said, “Pretty good weekend. How about you?”

He said, “Well, good, after I got over the shock that my grandbaby was born early Friday morning."

Then it hits me. Oh my god! I didn’t tell him.

I took something away from him because I didn’t take in the human aspect. I didn’t get that message to him, so he missed his grandchild’s birth. He might have missed it anyway. I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.

From that point on, I never ever wanted to see the look in another person’s face that I saw in his—the disappointment, the hurt that I caused.

I was not going to change the world. I had to step back and build a team.

The Lesson:

A team can change things. So, I changed my mindset from “I am going to change the world” to “How can I better develop a team?” That’s a real leader.

The first year I wasn’t a leader. I was my own person, doing my own thing. I was inflexible. I was demanding, overbearing and I didn’t really consider the human element. We were just going to do it this­ way and we were just going to do it quickly. But, I backed up and realized that this is a marathon, it’s not going to be a sprint.

One person is not going to be able to change the world. If you can grow people, if you can get your team on board, the team can overcome a lot of obstacles and can achieve a lot of success.

But one person, I just don’t see one person being able to do that, not in our industry.

I was still driven, I was still demanding, but to a much lesser degree. I started really involving people. It really wasn’t a case that I didn’t care about people to begin with. I did, but I let my ambition overcome the people aspect of it.

It took me close to a year to realize that I was not going to change the world. I had to step back and build a team.

Follow Nissan on Twitter at @NissanUSA.

Photo courtesy of Randy Knight 

Do you have a good story you’d like to share, or know someone we should feature? Email jfisher@crain.com.

And be sure to sign up for your local newsletter from Crain's.