In November 2011, Akio Toyoda was in Thailand to deal with problems related to heavy flooding that had been occurring there since July. Since becoming president, he had faced numerous adverse situations, starting from having fallen into the red after the global financial crisis in 2009, Toyota’s recall crisis in 2009-2010, and the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011. While in Thailand, however, there was something else happening in Japan that had caught Akio’s attention.
In Japan, the Toyota women’s softball team was playing for the league championship. Even though he was far away, Akio wanted to support the team. With that in mind, he asked his on-site colleagues to provide updates on the game.
The match went into extra innings with both sides not giving an inch and the score tied at 0-0. A bit later, Akio received information that the Toyota team was down two runs. He began to think, “I guess we might lose. I wonder what I should say when I get back to Japan.”
However, the Toyota team staged a dramatic come-from-behind and walk-off victory scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning. Akio shares what he felt at that moment.
“I’ll never forget my excitement at that comeback victory. But what excited me more than winning the championship was the way that we won. No one gave up on the field, in the dugout, or in the stands. Everyone kept playing and kept cheering in the belief that we could win―that we would win.
That was a difficult time for Toyota. We were struggling with the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake as well as the flooding in Thailand. And that game reminded us that we can never give up.”
Since becoming president, Akio has faced numerous challenges, often feeling the limits of his own power. However, he felt encouraged by the players who competed as one bearing the company’s weight on their backs and the word “TOYOTA” printed across the chest of their uniforms. To Akio, their challenge and his endeavor as Toyota’s CEO striving for a wide range of stakeholders seemed to overlap.
Akio touched upon this episode at a press conference in November 2015 when the company became a Worldwide Paralympic Partner.
“Just as our softball players taught me to never give up, Paralympians are also an incredible source of strength and inspiration for people around the world. Paralympians fight every day to defy their perceived limitations and to have access to the same opportunities as everyone else. They also fight to give hope to those that support them.”
“For someone other than yourself.” These are the words Akio uses to describe the shining spirit of athletes. Wanting to bring something to others and benefit them can make a difference in sports, whether it is a team sport or an individual competition. That might also be the source of the never-give-up spirit. Akio hopes this is the mindset maintained by all Toyota employees. His goal for Toyota is to be a company that always goes beyond “oneself” and constantly strives to do things for “others.”