[Through the words of Akio] #04 “I want to be the most ‘genba-oriented’ president”
On April 1, 2021, President Akio Toyoda, in Toyota’s work uniform, was attending a gathering with new recruits who recently joined Toyota Motor Corporation. As he was responding to a question from one of the members, Akio stood up and walked to the Type G Automatic Loom that was invented by his great-grandfather and the founder of Toyota Group, Sakichi Toyoda.
Showing the mechanism of the machine with a wooden shuttle, he explained that Toyota’s value or philosophy originates back to the thinking behind the invention of the loom, which was to make someone’s work easier through solving problems at the genba (workplace or where things are happening).
Many well-known business leaderships talk about the importance of genba, but what Akio truly means by his words to value genba may represent something deeper.
In January 2009, as part of his remarks at the press conference of announcing the company’s decision to promote him as next president of Toyota, Akio expressed his desire to be “the most genba-oriented president.” Since then, he has proven to be the one.
A wide variety of genba exist at Toyota; production plants, distributers and dealerships, and sometimes motorsports circuits.
It’s not only that he is there physically. When visiting offices, plants, or dealers, he intentionally does not make any pre-notice so that he can see what it is usually like there at each genba. He suddenly shows up and enjoys talking to the people who work there.
At the circuit, he test-drives by himself with a professional helmet on, and gives his honest feedback to engineers as a master driver. Akio moves around the genba to gain genuine information about what is really happening there and what the issues are.
So what specifically does genba refer to? A simple yet most comprehensive and accurate answer is in the occasion you are in and the moment you are witnessing. That is the reality, and this should give you an idea of where to make improvements. The continuation of such efforts will lead to a brighter future.
The comment Akio made more than 10 years ago, in saying “I want to be the most genba-oriented president,” was his commitment to always staying close to the frontlines and maintaining ownership of everything Toyota does.
For those who newly joined Toyota, each different genba awaits them respectively. And that’s the source of kaizen or continuous improvement, as they make things better and better for people around them. And this way of thinking is exactly what makes Toyota Toyota. This, as shown in his words and actions, is what Akio has valued for a long time in steering the company in the right direction.