Jacques "Jac" A. Nasser was born in the city of Amyoun, Lebanon on 27 December 1947. He is the son of a former bus driver and independent businessman, Abdo Nasser, who served with the Australian armed forces in Lebanon during the second world war. At four years of age Nasser moved with his family to Melbourne, Australia. He attended Northcote High School. He started a number of businesses as a teenager, including a bicycle-making operation and several discotheques, which he promoted in Melbourne with his brother Jamie. Nasser's first professional experience was at Ford of Australia as a student intern. He graduated with a business degree from the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Melbourne in 1968, where he would later be awarded with an honorary doctorate of technology. He speaks four languages: English, Arabic, Spanish and Portuguese.
Upon graduating, in 1968 the 20-year-old Nasser joined Ford Motor Company as a financial analyst, working at the head office in Australia. In 1973 he joined Ford's global financial staff and transferred to Ford's North American Truck Operations in the United States. Afterwards, he returned to Australia to work as a manager of product programming and financial analysis, before joining Ford's International Automotive Operations. While with the international division, he helped oversee Asia-Pacific and Latin American operations. While working in Argentina, Nasser was notably kidnapped by political extremists, being returned to the Ford plant two days later.
Nasser helped in the negotiations of Ford's South African joint venture program in 1982. The following year, he developed a business and operating plan for Ford's Hermosillo Assembly Plant in Mexico. In 1987 Nasser became the first director and vice president of Autolatina, a joint venture between Ford and Volkswagen in Brazil and Argentina.
While remaining in charge of Autolatina, in 1989 he also took charge of Ford Australia, where he had started his career. He remained president and CEO of Ford Australia until 1993, where he picked up the corporate nicknames "Jac the Knife" for costcutting efforts with Ford's supplier base. He was also dubbed "Black Jack" for his ability to keep numbers north of red. On 1 January 1993, Nasser was elected chairman of the board of Ford Europe, a role he maintained until 1996. He was promoted to vice president of Ford Motor Company in 1993 as well, becoming Ford's group vice president of product development in 1994. While in his position of Ford's VP, Fortune writes that he developed a reputation for working 18 hour days and regularly interacting with Ford employees via a newsletter. Wrote Fortune about his time as VP, "if Ford is a religion, then Nasser is the head preacher."
On 1 November 1996, he began heading Ford Automotive Operations. Nasser was the featured speaker at the 1998 New York International Auto Show (NYIAS). Bloomberg Businessweek described Nasser in late 1998 as a "scrappy, hard-nosed cost-cutter who is widely credited with Ford's turnaround." The magazine further opined that since becoming Ford's automotive president in October 1996, "the blunt-talking Australian has transformed Ford from struggling with the worst profit margins in the business to scoring record earnings last year - surpassing General Motors. Nasser has slashed over $4 billion in costs in the past 18 months... and this fall he will show a further 10% of Ford's 53,000 salaried staff the door. Nasser also has a flair for car design and has reinvigorated Ford's overseas operations."
Fortune in June 1998 described Nasser as "heir apparent" to Ford CEO Alex Trotman, who was soon to retire. The projected high-profile appointment met with a great deal of attention in the press, and largely positive reactions. Before the role was finalized, Robert A. Lutz of Chrysler categorized Nasser as a "brilliant automotive executive and unconventional thinker" and opined "they'd be crazy not to give him the top job." The president of BMW North America stated Nasser had energy and ideas but had "to avoid diluting Ford's brands-but I suspect he understands that." On 1 January 1999, Nasser became president and CEO, as well as a member of the board of directors, of Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, Michigan. At the time Ford was the world's most profitable automaker, with profits of $7.2 billion on sales of $163 billion, so he was given free rein to experiment by the simultaneously appointed chairman Bill Ford. Nasser announced that he would transform Ford, according to The Economist, "from a boring old car maker" into a "consumer-products and services company". He stated he would work to help Ford surpass GM in US market share, and would also try to make Ford less reliant on pickup truck sales.
Nasser promptly instituted a number of changes as CEO, closing plants that were losing money and selling unprofitable operations. He also instituted a new human resources policy mandating that 10 percent of low-performing managers could be subject to termination, arguing that new people and turnover were good for the company. He also instituted a program that gave internet access and home computers to employees. Beyond human resources, Nasser's other focus was brand management, and under Nasser's watch, in 1999 Ford formed Premier Automotive Group (PAG) to expand its market share in the luxury segment. PAG was formed to oversee the business operations of Ford's high-end automotive marques, and it grew to include responsibility for the Lincoln, Mercury, Aston Martin, Jaguar, Land Rover and Volvo brands. To reinvigorate certain brand lines, Nasser brought in car designer J Mays. He also oversaw Ford's 1999 acquisition of Volvo for $6.45 billion, LandRover for $2.8 billion, and helped Ford start an "automotive e-business integrated supply chain."
He diversified Ford's businesses to include e-commerce, junkyards, auto-repair shops, and car distribution among others. By August 1999, The Economist clarified that Nasser had already acquired the Kwik-Fit exhausts-and-brakes chain in Europe, American scrapyard businesses, the consumer-finance arm of Japan's Mazda, and had "even signed a deal to provide drivers with satellite-fed audio and other services for a monthly fee." The Economist pointed out the diversification was an attempt to increase profit margins, as "whereas car makers are lucky to scrape operating margins of more than 5% from actually making cars, other businesses such as leasing, renting, insurance, finance and car repair, can all achieve margins of 10-15%." Also, by late 1999 Nasser was working to sell the underperforming in-house parts company, Visteon. Ford of North America began marketing the Ford Focus in October 1999 for the 2000 model year as a surprise Christmas present for Nasser, with some changes from the European version. Ford's profits in 1999 were USD $6.5 billion ($A9.94 billion), which Drive.com claims was the largest "ever made in the world car industry."
According to CNN, Nasser was "point man" in the dispute between Ford and Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. over tire safety. After an investigation in early 2000 found that tread separation on Firestone tires had led to fatalities in some Ford Explorers, Nasser appeared on prime-time television to announce a product recall allowing Ford owners to change the affected tires for others. Firestone responded by arguing that Ford Explorers had caused the accidents, not its tires, while Nasser defended the Explorer as one of the safer SUVs on the market. On 6 September 2000, Nasser and Bridgestone executive Masatoshi Ono confronted a US Congressional sub-committee on the recall. Dispute arose in the hearings over whether Ford and Firestone had known about similar problems in the 1970s and 1990s. Nasser again denied that Ford had responsibility in the accidents, with Ono admitting some fault. On 22 May 2001, Bridgestone's CEO wrote to Nasser canceling the 100-year supply relationship between their companies, aruging Ford's tire recall was "casting doubt on the quality of Firestone tires." After numerous class action lawsuits, Firestone ultimately recalled millions of tires later that year, with Ford Motor using AUS$4.4 billion of its own funds to replace Firestone tires on its vehicles. The scandal helped lead to a sharp dip in Ford's 2001 quarterly share prices.
By late 2001, Nasser's efforts to diversify Ford's core business had met with mixed reactions in the press, with analysts at The Economist and CNN arguing that diversification and recent recalls had hampered productivity. Nasser's manager evaluation system had also proved controversial at Ford, with allegations of reverse discrimination. In July 2001, Nasser announced that the system was being changed to "allow for more flexibility." Ford settled several lawsuits over the system in late 2001 without admitting liability. In October 2001, the 53-year-old Nasser retired from his position as Ford's CEO. He was succeeded in both positions by William Clay Ford Jr, who as Henry Ford's great-grandson had previously been chairman and president.
In February 2001, Nasser became a member of the International Advisory Council of Allianz Aktiengeselischaft. The following year he became a senior partner at One Equity Partners, the private equity arm of JPMorgan Chase. Nasser was involved in 2006 when One Equity speculated on bidding for Jaguar Cars and Premier Automotive Group. He also would serve as chairman of One Equity's Polaroid Corporation subsidiary starting in July 2002, before selling the company in 2005. He remained a One Equity partner until 2014. Nasser was on the board of British Sky Broadcasting from November 2002 to November 2012 and he served on the board of BuyTV.com. In 2004, he began a four-year tenure on the board of directors at Brambles Limited, an Australian logistics company. In June 2006 he was appointed to the board the Australian mining company BHP Billiton, specifically BHP Billiton Limited and BHP Billiton Plc.
He was elected as the next chairman of BHP Billiton in March 2010, ending an 18-month search to find a replacement for the retiring Don Argus. The Wall Street Journal claimed that "analysts welcomed the appointment," and that Nasser had possibly been selected because BHP was "looking for the stability of another long-term chairman." The Australian opined the next day that Nasser was "the right guy to lead BHP Billiton in the post-Argus era," writing about his time at Ford that "Nasser spent a good 15 years delivering Ford, with some internal reluctance, leadership of the reform agenda in the motor industry...Nasser is one reason why Ford is the one US major not to put its hand out for government money in the wake of the Global Financial Crisis." He officially became chairman of BHP Billiton on 13 March 2010. Over the following years Nasser would help implement a number of policy changes at BHP, including a large demerger and a cap on growth projects. Nasser also focused on maintaining the company's long-term financial goals, working to keep the balance sheet stable during a global downturn in the metals and oil markets, and revising the company's progressive annual dividend policy, which The Australian Financial Review dubbed strategic for the "new era."
On 5 December 2012, Smart Company named Nasser No. 6 on a list of the "most powerful people in Australian boardrooms." At the time, Nasser ranked No. 18 on the Optimice Market Capitalisation Influence Index and at No. 17 on the MCII connectedness index. He became a board member at 21st Century Fox in June 2013. On 2 August 2015, it was confirmed that Nasser had joined the board of Koç Holding a large Turkey-based conglomerate. After the deadly Bento Rodrigues dam disaster in Brazil on 5 November 2015, Nasser announced that BHP would be permitting an external investigation into the incident, with findings to be released publicly.
In June 2017, BHP annonced that Nasser will be replaced by Ken MacKenzie as chairman effective on 1 September 2017.
Nasser was named 'Automobile Industries Man of the Year' in 1999 by the Retail Motor Industry Organization. In 2002 he was named an officer of the National Order of the Cedar, the highest honor in Lebanon. Also that year Nasser was awarded the Order of Australia and a Centenary Medal for "his contribution to Australian industry, as an Advisor to Government, and for education in the areas of technology." The National Ethnic Coalition of Organizations (NECO) awarded Nasser the Ellis Island Medal of Honor, which pays homage to contributions made to America by immigrants.
Nasser funds several scholarship programs that assist individual students, including the Jacques Nasser Scholarship in Entrepreneurship at RMIT University in Melbourne, the Jacques Nasser Scholarship for MBA students at the American University of Beirut, and the Jacques Nasser Scholarship at the INSEAD School of Business. He also has been known to support organizations such as Focus: HOPE, a training center in Detroit.
Nasser and his ex-wife Jennifer, also an Australian, married in 1970 and have four children together. By 2009 Nasser was based primarily out of his home in Michigan, though after becoming chairman of BHP Billiton in 2010 he began spending equal time in Australia, also having properties in New York City, London, and Melbourne. Described as a fan of racing, Nasser has served as a periodic judge at Concours d'Elegance events.
He has Australian-American dual citizenship, and is nicknamed "Jac". He owns a 1961 Lincoln Continental. He has a sister named Betty.