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From star to team player: how Jerry Florence made the switch from General Motors to Nissan.

Jerry Florence has always been a solid team player. From 1966 through 1971, he played minor league baseball for the Chicago White Soxs. Little did he know that some 20-odd years later, he'd be using those same team skills at a leading Japanese auto manufacturer. Today, the former outfielder is building on his technical, marketing, strategic planning, sales and international management skills and hitting home runs for Nissan Motor Corp.

When Florence became the first African American vice president for Nissan's U.S. marketing, he sought collegiality with his peers. Although the move from General Motors to Nissan in 1993 was a step up the corporate ladder, Florence, 47, no longer had to stand above the crowd. Instead, he applied his sports-oriented team philosophy, to help increase Nissan's 5% market share.

Florence's focus on progress and teamwork was bolstered by the Japanese corporate culture of kaizan, or continuous improvement.

In America, we place a big premium on individual superstars, says Florence. "In your career you try to do something big and impactful that will make you stand out from the crowd. In the Japanese culture that's not the case. The idea is for the organization--the team--to win," says the Wichita State University graduate.

Traditionally, American companies have promoted individual merit. In contrast, the Japanese have always discouraged individual gain, instead rewarding group excellence. "I had to understand that you can't always do things in a vacuum," reflects Florence. "I had to make sure that the goal fit with the overall vision and direction of the company." One dramatic difference in management styles, notes Florence, is that at American companies most idea proposals get a "yes" or "no" answer, while the Japanese take each proposal through a grueling questioning session. This process, called nimiwashi, "forces you to get to the root of the idea," he adds.

Florence's entree into the automobile industry began in 1983 as a sales, marketing and business planner manager at an Ohio office of General Motors. In 10 years, he took over as general director in marketing and product planning for Gm's Cadillac division, where he was responsible for worldwide sales of luxury vehicles. Having developed and negotiated contracts with the Soviet Union and Japan, Florence's marketing strategies contributed to Gm's 33% share of the U.S. automotive market.

Today, as brand and consumer vice president, Florence spearheads all marketing activities for Nissan and Infinity division car and truck lines in the U.S.. He is charged with developing strategic marketing plans, fleet account sales and administration, sales promotion, dealer co-op marketing, database marketing, brand image management and new business initiatives.

In addition to Florence's critical role in the successful launch of the 1995 Maxima and 240SX (which attributed to a 30% sales increase for Maxima over the previous model and a 10% increase for 240SX), Florence also implemented new and innovative partnerships with various mass market mediums.

"The way you excel in anything is through repetition," says Florence. "Things don't just happen. It takes preparation and focus to build a better mousetrap." Perhaps we all can learn a thing or two from kaizan.
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Title Annotation:vice-president for marketing Nissan cars in the U.S.
Author:Shakespeare, Tonia
Publication:Black Enterprise
Date:Jan 1, 1996
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