"Being president of Toyota is lonely." President Koji Sato received this piece of advice from Chairman Akio Toyoda when he was offered the position. What has Toyota's new leadership team inherited?
At Toyota’s annual meeting, company leaders fielded 11 shareholder questions. In this article, we highlight four conversations between Chairman Toyoda, President Sato, and the shareholders.
Is Akio’s love for Japan waning?
During the first half of his presidency, Akio faced a host of difficulties, not least a super-strong yen nearing 80 to the dollar. At least on paper, it seemed as though Japanese manufacturing was no longer viable.
While other industries shifted overseas, Akio kept fighting to protect Japanese jobs and monozukuri foundations at all costs.
At a Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) press conference in March 2021, Akio recalled being driven by a sense of duty and love for Japan as one of the country’s core industries.
In his 2023 JAMA New Year’s address, however, he remarked that, despite the auto industry’s contributions to the Japanese economy, carmakers “rarely hear words of gratitude” in their home country.
When a shareholder questioned whether Akio’s fondness for Japan was waning of late, the chairman spoke his mind.
If I were to sum up my presidency, I would say it was a lonely 14 years.
I became president as Toyota tumbled into the red during the Global Financial Crisis.
I had to prove myself, as people both inside and outside the company waited for me to slip up and quit. I started out as the president no one wanted.
What sustained me, however, was support from the genba. And above all, because I had a love for cars, Toyota, and Japan,
I could steer Toyota, a global company born in Japan, through this time of profound transformation.
I was criticized in the newspapers and elsewhere, and I often feel saddened by the tone of the media and politics.
But I think the real public opinion is elsewhere. The shareholders who wrote their support for us in the voting papers, the customers who love Toyota cars and choose us,
while they may be silent, I feel that is the real public opinion.
As someone who carries these people's expectations, I feel I cannot turn my back on Japan.
The first kanji in “public opinion” is said to come from the character mikoshi (輿), meaning portable shrine.
This character contains the kanji for “car” (車). Fortunately, as carmakers, we are well-versed in public opinion.
Together with dealers and suppliers, we will continue to face up to the public opinion of the customers who choose our cars.
Amid the applause, the shareholder who had posed the question offered encouragement to those on stage.
“For the sake of the shareholders and Japan, I hope that everyone at Toyota will continue to do their best.”