Shoichiro Toyoda – the person who helped Toyota become a global empire

Toyota’s recently deceased honorary president – Shoichiro Toyoda – was the one who laid the foundation in the US for this car company to reach out to the world.

Shoichiro Toyoda is the son of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda and the father of current CEO Akio Toyoda. He died on February 14 at the age of 97, of heart disease.

He joined the company in 1952, leading Toyota during the Japanese automaker’s expansion into the US, launching the luxury brand Lexus and the petrol-electric Prius. He was also instrumental in helping Toyota gain global recognition for its new model of quality management in manufacturing.

Toyoda graduated from Nagoya University with a degree in engineering. Although he comes from the Toyota founding family, he did not have an easy start.

Toyoda used to work at a fish cake maker in Hokkaido. At that time, he had not yet figured out how a car company would recover from World War II.

After the sudden death of his father in 1952, Shoichiro was newly appointed as a leader at Toyota. He had to learn about management from previous leaders at the company such as Taizo Ishida, Eiji Toyoda… Shoichiro’s first job at Toyota was to inspect cars returned by customers due to defects.

Shoichiro Toyoda sits in a 2000 Toyota. Photo: Reuters

Shoichiro Toyoda sitting in a 2000 Toyota. Photo: Reuters

In 1957, after testing the Toyopet Crown around the United States, he suggested the company export this model. This is the first product the Japanese automaker has exported to the US market. Toyota positions this vehicle for families on a tight budget.

However, this business idea failed. Americans think that the Toyopet Crown is sluggish and lacks power in the age of large-engine cars.

After this lesson, he went to the factory, encouraging Toyota workers to come up with suggestions on more optimal production methods, solving possible design errors. “This was a serious mistake. However, I have learned from my wrong judgment and determined to develop high-quality cars,” he said.

Toyoda held the role of President of Toyota Motor from 1992 to 1999. In 1994, he worked as Chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren). This is a position that needs delicate management in the context of Japan’s economic difficulties. Besides, the US and Japan are also falling into trade tensions.

Cars then accounted for half of America’s trade deficit with Japan. This puts Toyota – Japan’s largest car company – under a lot of pressure from Washington.

Toyota’s director at that time was Tatsuro Toyoda – Shoichiro’s younger brother could not be held responsible for health reasons. As president, Shoichiro Toyoda coordinated with US Ambassador Walter Mondale to resolve issues, including importing more components from the US, helping to save bilateral trade negotiations.

At the same time, he ramped up car production in the US. This is the foundation for Toyota to rise to become the world’s leading car manufacturer.

Toyoda’s grandfather and father are both famous people with strong personalities. But Shoichiro Toyoda is the opposite. He is very humble when talking about himself. He still considers himself an engineer even as the leader of Keidanren. Toyoda is also a good listener.

He stepped down from leading Toyota and became emeritus president in 1999. Even so, he continued to encourage the company’s young employees when he visited production facilities.

In the last years of his life, with a passion for cars, Toyoda still spent time sitting behind new Toyota models on the test track. A young Toyota executive said that Toyoda was always the last person to stay at each test drive event.

According to NikkeiIt was this passion of Toyoda that pushed Toyota to create the luxury car brand Lexus. He has ambitions to develop cars that surpass German cars.

His devotion is also ingrained in Toyota’s culture. According to Harvard Business Reviewhe has rules such as turning off the company lights at lunchtime to save money, designing offices that consider every inch to maximize use and minimize costs.

As Toyota’s factories expanded beyond Japan, he also strictly enforced the just-in-time inventory philosophy. This is to help factories transform production models quickly, responding to changes in customer needs.

Tu Anh (according to Nikkei, Washingtonpost)

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