Atsushi Najima had some very big shoes to fill when he took over the job of Nissan's top guy in the Philippines earlier this year. Under his predecessor, the Japanese car giant experienced a spectacular surge in sales, taking it from as low as number 9 in the rankings of car brands in the country to, currently, number 3.
But Nissan Philippines is not letting up. With Najima at the helm, the brand is taking its recent triumphs and doubling down on efforts to bring its cars to more people in the country.
All of this is doubly impressive when you consider that Najima has had a long history with Nissan even before he joined the company.
A history with Nissan
Najima says he first got a driver's license when he was 20 years old, which is a bit late by Japanese standards. Most of his countrymen get theirs when they turn 18 or 19.
"I moved to Tokyo from a provincial area to study at university," he explains. "And during my first year in university, I played soccer. So that's why I didn't have time to get a driver's license at school."
As with most young people, Najima says the first car he ever drove was his father's.
"It was a Toyota 4x4," he says. "It was a very old car. He changed his car so that's why I got it."
But when we're talking about the first car he ever bought with his own money, Najima gives a surprising but prescient answer.
"It was a Nissan X-Trail," he says. "I think I was in my early 30s. I wanted a sporty SUV. So then I compared a few models in the market, and I picked the X-Trail."
First launched by Nissan in 2000, the X-Trail is a seven-seater crossover SUV that is now on its third generation. Najima says he's had a lot of fond memories with his old X-Trail.
"At the time, my kids were still very young, around four to six years old," he says. "My best memory, I think, was just the family space in the car. Even when my kids were growing up, they still remember the music that we listend to in the car.
"We went to so many places in the X-Trail," he adds. "Back then I liked to drive to small villages, (experience) nature as well as visit historical monuments in Japan as well as in other places in Asia. That's why we traveled to so many countries. I wanted to see local monuments as well as local specialties and talk to local people."
Najima says he had the X-Trail for only about three years because his old company relocated him to Singapore. In the tiny city state, he says he didn't get a car.
"I took public transportation," he says.
Years later, in 2016, he would join Nissan and thus his relationship with the car brand would come full circle.
Of course, today, his regular drive is a step up from his old set of wheels.
"Now I am driving a Patrol," he says, referring to Nissan's full-sized SUV. "This is far better than I ever expected. I didn't drive or ride the last (version) of the SUV, so this is another level of luxury and sophistication. This is superior stability. Interior is first class. I feel very happy when we are in the car.
"And also my family is very happy."