José Munoz, Chairman of Nissan North America


Nissan North America continues to be a driving force in the growth and innovation of Middle Tennessee. We had the opportunity to sit down with Chairman José Munoz and discuss everything from the company’s award-winning diversity programs to its multi-million dollar local marketing initiatives.

How does Nissan continue to shatter sales records in North America when there is so much competition among other auto makers?

Nissan has made strategic investments in its U.S. operations to ensure the company is able to continue to build quality vehicles that meet the growing needs of U.S. consumers. Localization remains an important part of Nissan’s strategy in North America and the company has increased production of its core models in North America: Altima, Pathfinder, Sentra, Rogue, Versa, LEAF, Murano, Maxima and the TITAN.

The Nissan Group has a very thorough global strategy led by our Global President and CEO, Mr. Carlos Ghosn, who has repeatedly succeeded in delivering all the plans that he set up since he took over 17 years ago, starting with the Nissan Revival Plan, the Nissan Value Up, etc., and ending in the current Mid-Term Plan called Nissan Power 88, whose last year is this fiscal year ’16.

Credit also goes to our more than 37,000 employees and to our strong network of highly engaged Nissan and Infiniti retailers.

What recent accomplishments make you proud?

Nissan North America, Inc. (NNA) sales for fiscal year 2015 set an all-time record of 2,009,119, passing the two-million sales mark for the first time in company history. Each of NNA’s three sales regions – the United States, Canada and Mexico – also set individual volume records for the fiscal year ending March 31, 2016. In 2015, Nissan marked a number of key U.S. milestones, including all-time records for total sales (1,484,918) and production (962,373).

Nissan has registered market share increases in eight of the past nine years, with fiscal year 2015 share reaching 9.6 percent. In addition, Nissan’s investment of more than $18 billion in North America over the past 30 years has resulted in an annual manufacturing capacity of two million units. In 2015, 85 percent of vehicles sold in North America were produced here.

Nissan continues to expand in Middle Tennessee. What makes Middle Tennessee different than other areas in the country?

Middle Tennessee is a great place to live and do business and Nashville continues to be a go-to destination for visitors from around the world. We have enjoyed a long and successful partnership with the State of Tennessee. Nissan’s success in Tennessee for more than 30 years is due in large part to our ability to recruit and retain a quality workforce of more than 12,000 employees working at the company’s operations in Smyrna, Franklin and Decherd.

The Nissan facility in Smyrna opened 33 years ago, and the impact of the company and its employees continues to be felt throughout Nashville and Middle Tennessee. Nissan has invested more than $6 billion in the region while building nearly 11 million vehicles throughout the history of our Smyrna facility. Our ever-growing footprint in Tennessee includes vehicle and powertrain manufacturing facilities in Smyrna and Decherd respectively, along with our North American headquarters in Franklin.

Credit also to the great state and local governments we have dealt with from the moment our plants were established, starting with Gov. Alexander and currently with Gov. Haslam.

Nissan is committed to growing a diverse workforce. Can you talk about some outreach initiatives the company has implemented in recent years?

In recent years, we’ve seen continued growth of our employee resource groups. One of the most successful elements of Nissan’s diversity strategy, these affinity groups provide employees who have shared interests/identities with the opportunity to work cross-functionally and develop programs that drive a culture of inclusion in the workplace.

Members of our 25 employee resource groups work to raise cultural awareness within the company and serve as ambassadors within the community to educate others about the value of diversity. With 38% of our customers identified as multicultural, Nissan has the most diverse consumer base of any automotive manufacturer. We understand the importance of authentic engagement with our employees and the communities where we live and work.

Earlier this year, Nissan North America was named to DiversityInc Magazine’s Top 25 Noteworthy Companies. Nissan’s diversity strategy extends into the community through partnerships with other businesses and organizations — both locally and nationally — including:

  • 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee
  • Association of Latino Professionals for America (ALPFA)
  • Hispanic Scholarship Fund
  • Japan-America Society of Tennessee
  • Leadership Education for Asian Pacifics (LEAP)
  • League of United Latin American Citizen’s (LULAC)
  • Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce
  • NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People)
  • National Council of La Raza
  • National Society of Black Engineers
  • National Urban League
  • UNCF (United Negro College Fund)

Additionally, the Nissan Foundation — created in response to the civil unrest in Los Angeles in the 1990s — dedicates 100 percent of its funds to organizations with educational programs that foster a greater appreciation and understanding of cultural diversity.

Last year, Nissan earned a perfect 100 score on the Human Rights Campaign Equality Index. Why is LGBT inclusion important to Nissan?

Today’s workforce is increasingly diverse in terms of personal characteristics such as race, ethnicity, gender, national origin, religion, gender identity, and sexual orientation. And, a well-managed diverse workforce contributes positively to the business.

Nissan’s employee group, the Gay Straight Alliance at Nissan (GSAN), continues to be the driving force behind the company’s LGBT outreach efforts. We offer inclusive benefits and Championing Diversity workshops for employees, and a “Diversity and Inclusion” team works closely with advocacy groups such as the Human Rights Campaign to drive a culture of equality in the workplace.
Since 2013, Nissan has scored a perfect 100 in the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Corporate Equality Index for its LGBT-inclusive policies and commitment to the community. The company was among the fastest risers in the history of the index.

Almost a year ago today Nissan secured naming rights to the Tennessee Titans’ Stadium. Can you speak about the reasons why the company felt it was important to grow its footprint in Nashville?

Our partnership with the Tennessee Titans organization sends a strong message about the positive future on the horizon for Nissan, the Titans, the City of Nashville and Middle Tennessee.

In our fourth decade of operations in Middle Tennessee, this significant investment demonstrates the strength of our commitment to the region. This agreement represents a tremendous opportunity for the Titans franchise and further entrenches Nissan’s roots as one of the region’s leading and most innovative corporate citizens.

The stadium is a centerpiece of the downtown skyline, and we want visitors and Titan game TV viewers to know that we are proud to call Nashville and the great state of Tennessee, Nissan’s home.

Are there any other local initiatives you can talk about?

This week Nissan announced its annual Nissan Foundation grant recipients. For 24 years, the Nissan Foundation has funded innovative programs that encourage people to value cultural diversity that exists within American society. Seven local organizations in Middle Tennessee received 2016 grants including the Frist Center for the Visual Arts, the Nashville Public Library Foundation and Nashville Public TV.

Additionally, Nissan has been active for many years with Habitat for Humanity in communities where we live and work. Since 2006, Nissan’s employees have logged more than 70,000 volunteer hours with Habitat for Humanity, building 63 homes across the United States and serving 569 families. Here in Middle Tennessee, Nissan employees have built and dedicated 10 Habitat homes.

One component of our partnership with the Tennessee Titans and naming of Nissan Stadium includes assisting charitable organizations throughout Middle Tennessee in an array of community outreach programs. A centerpiece of this is the annual “Taste of Titans” charitable event, for which Nissan will serve as presenting sponsor. During the course of our 20-year relationship, a total of more than $1 million resulting from these annual events is anticipated to be distributed to local non-profit organizations.

Nissan also has a long-standing partnership with the Heisman Trust and its mission of building strong communities and service to America’s youth continues to be an excellent fit. As part of this relationship, we recently collaborated with the Tennessee Titans and former Heisman Trophy winners, including Tennessee Titan Marcus Mariota, to build a Habitat for Humanity home in North Nashville as well as host a youth football clinic at Nissan Stadium for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Middle Tennessee.

As one of the most high profile Hispanic CEOs in the state, do you think your role will open the door for other Hispanic people?

I hope I serve as an inspiration not only for Hispanics, but also other minority groups who don’t feel they are adequately represented in senior leadership roles. Many minority groups are underrepresented in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields. Nissan is a strong supporter of STEM education to inspire and develop talent to become our leaders of tomorrow.
My background is in nuclear engineering, so I recognize the importance of STEM education. Its basic principles are used in just about any industry. STEM-focused programs Nissan supports include National Society of Black Engineers, Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) International’s A World in Motion, League of United Latin American Citizen’s (LULAC) National Educational Service Centers (LNESC) and DigiGirlz.

In April, Nissan also donated $250,000 to six Historically Black Colleges and Universities in Mississippi to help support the schools’ STEM initiatives, including programs that are designed to develop future engineers, programmers and scientists. To date, Nissan has invested more than $1 million in local HBCUs – half of which supports STEM-specific curriculums.

What motto do you live by?

Grow or Go. This is a very simple way which I try to apply in everything I do. The key to be able to apply this is to have passion in everything you do. Our company and our job is part of our lives and family, and we need to dedicate to it with passion and motivation. Many thousand employees and their families depend on our actions, investments and results.

Photo appears courtesy of Nissan North America.