Chairman Akio Toyoda sees himself as Toyota's "rearguard." What was he trying to protect during his 14-year watch? Chairing the shareholders' meeting for the last time, Akio delivered a tearful final message.
Toyota’s General Shareholders' Meeting was held on June 14 at the company’s head office in Toyota City, Aichi. This year’s meeting, the last to be chaired by Chairman Akio Toyoda, was attended by 3,774 shareholders.
The day’s proceedings included 11 questions from the audience, covering the 14 years under President Toyoda, the aspects to be inherited and changed under the new team, and Toyota’s electrification strategy. Company leaders explained relevant initiatives while also offering their own views.
Three resolutions were also approved, including the election of 10 board members, Chairman Toyoda and President Koji Sato among them. Meanwhile, the first shareholder proposal in 18 years, seeking a climate-related amendment to the company’s Articles of Incorporation, was rejected.
With all the deliberations completed, Akio addressed the shareholders.
What the Rearguard Protected for the Future
These 14 years, I feel that my role was the rearguard, holding the fort while everyone else could escape in a losing battle.
My enemy was corporate culture that had forgotten how to be Toyota, and what I tried to protect was the genba and Toyota's future.
If I managed to leave anything, it's the people that will shape the future.
When asked what they do, they will proudly say, “I'm a carmaker.”
Initially, I was the president no one wanted, but in Toyota's long history, perhaps such a president was needed.
What Toyota showed me
President Sato put forth this call to all Toyota employees and partners;
Let's change the future of cars. No one at Toyota would laugh at these words now.
The way they looked on and listened to President Sato so as not to miss a word. I could almost hear the words “Let's do this!” from our colleagues.
Everyone there was a carmaker. That made me happy more than anything else.
370,000 global Toyota colleagues showed me that you can change yourself and the future.
What sort of future will Toyota create with its partners and Captain Koji? I really want to see it from the bottom of my heart.
The most dreaded day of the year becomes a chance for self-reflection
Looking back, when I first took this chair in June 2010, ｔhe shareholders' meeting was my least favorite day of the year.
Over the 14 meetings that I have chaired, however, responding to the questions of our shareholders gave me a fresh perspective on many aspects of Toyota, including our cherished values and future direction.
Today, I view the annual meeting as an important opportunity to look at ourselves in the mirror.
Let's make ever-better cars rather than worry about sales.
Let’s aim for best-in-town, rather than best in the world.
I want to protect Japanese monozukuri above all.
The decisions I made often went against the currents of time and the conservative mainstream of Toyota.
I was able to go forward even when going against the flow, because of shareholders with a mid to long-term outlook who supported Toyota and myself.
The warm messages supporting Toyota and Morizo written in the voting forms and the indirect support through the warm looks and applauses you gave, helped push me and got me this far. Thank you all so very much.
The battle to change the future for carmakers has already begun. There will be hard times as answers are sought.
I believe the new team will show its true colors at the shareholders' meeting.
I hope you will watch over their progress, and I ask that you give them even more support than you gave me.
Looking back on 14 years in gratitude
Akio’s voice trembled as he expressed his gratitude, tears welling in his eyes.
In keeping with his initial pledge to become “the most genba-oriented president,” Akio Toyoda spent more time on the frontlines than in the president’s office.
Leading from the front, through his actions he continued to embody the values that make Toyota unique.
“I want my generation to be the last to spend time on the past,” said Akio, determined to ensure that the next generation could focus on the future.
Gradually, a growing number were inspired by Akio’s example and drawn to his vision. With its business also on a solid footing, Toyota became a company that could look to the future and take on new challenges.
While Akio says that Toyota’s 370,000 global members have shown him that “you can change yourself, and the future,” no doubt many employees will have learned the same lesson from his actions.
The decisions Akio made by “swimming against the tide of both the times and Toyota’s conservative mainstream” steered the company through one crisis after another. And backing these decisions were the silent shareholders who continued to offer encouragement through the general meetings.
Bowing deeply in heartfelt gratitude, the chairman was greeted with tremendous applause—a moment of mutual appreciation between the “Rearguard President” and those he had served.