On Thursday, January 9, nearly 1,600 employees assembled in the Main Hall at the Toyota Head Office in Toyota City. They were there to hear the president’s annual New Year’s Address.
Only a few days before, President Akio Toyoda had been on stage at CES 2020 in Las Vegas. After his announcement on the concept of Woven City, a prototype city where all types of products and services will be connected, he hopped on a plane to Japan just an hour later to arrive in time to give the New Year’s Address.
This year’s New Year’s Address was going to break the mold; it had a different lineup of participants than normal. Usually, the Labor Relations Division invites those individuals who have been promoted to senior management or senior grade managers and the general managers of each department to attend. But this time, it was open to anyone who wanted to attend, regardless of qualifications or job title. This increased both the number of female attendees, and the number of young people, including new hires. The “line” within the company was removed, and anyone who wanted to hear the president’s annual message could attend of their own free will.
What did President Toyoda want to tell the employees so urgently he had to rush back from Las Vegas? He wanted to show them a video of when he talked with the employees of Toyota Motor East Japan’s Higashi-Fuji Plant after making the decision to close it down. It was the first time that President Toyoda had ever mentioned the words “connected city”.
As the market for automobiles in Japan shrinks, a plant that underpinned Toyota’s production of cars is being closed—but that is where Woven City begins. In other words, he was showing that among people working at Toyota, no one is unconnected with Woven City.
In his closing remarks, President Toyoda called on all of the employees who filled the venue with an increased level of passion that could be felt.
“Woven City is set to begin just as we enter this new era of “Reiwa” in Japan. I don’t think we get many chances like this.
Some of you probably think “‘What’s Woven City got to do with me?’ I wish we could reduce the number of people who think like that to zero. However, let me tell you that if the people who think that become the majority, Toyota will become a company the world no longer needs. You need to abandon the idea that this project has nothing to do with your own work.
“There’s a reason why I am emphasizing what I am saying so much. All of you who came here today have come because you wanted to. Maybe this feels a little stretched, but you are all people who have taken this step forward of your own free will. It’s people who have taken that step forward that may be able to sense something that others don’t. I’ve gone this far because this is what I think.
“I am grateful for this company called Toyota. Where would we all be today if our founder, Kiichiro Toyoda, hadn’t tackled the challenge of transforming into an automobile manufacturer? Our founding members didn’t get the chance to see their efforts bear fruit. We, myself included, are their heirs. As one of their heirs, I want to reward my predecessors who were not given their due. Don’t you want to see them get their due? At the very least, I want to settle the scores I can for them. That’s what drives me, personally.
“For those of us who have enjoyed Toyota’s success, tackling the challenge of changing ourselves now from an automobile manufacturer to a mobility company is a way of settling old scores for our predecessors. Future generations will look back and say, ‘We are where we are today thanks to those people back then.’ Don’t you want to be described and thought of like this?
“With Woven City, we’ll all create the new Toyota. We’ll ‘launch a new model’ for how we work. I want to make this year the starting point for this. I really want this to happen.”
For employees who have been or are willing to be the ones that “took a step forward of our own free will”, you are all entrusted with President Toyoda’s expectations of our “model change” moment.