For the first time in three years, President Akio Toyoda attended Toyota's National Dealer Meeting in the U.S., bringing a great surprise for a special guest.
Akio’s special surprise for a dear friend
Then came the special surprise for Bob Carter, which Akio had personally prepared. In fact, Akio was the one who had suggested inviting Bob to the event, shining the spotlight on an individual who had worked hard to make Toyota the “best in town.”
Now I think it’s obvious that there’s been a significant absence on this stage so far today.
I first met Bob Carter in 2009, when he had the difficult task of updating me on U.S. sales just after the financial crisis.
What I immediately appreciated about Bob was that he told me the truth without any B.S. or “Detarame” as we say in Japan.
He was accessible to every dealer 24/7 and never let a text or phone call go unreturned. Except for mine!
He is as passionate about this company as anyone I know. In fact, he might as well go by the name Bob Toyoda. He is and always will be simply the best.
A video then played, tracing Bob’s journey. It showed him on the road meeting dealers—which is how he spent 200 days of every year—along with his many achievements.
For 41 years, Bob had worked hand-in-hand with those on the sales floor, building connections and trust. After the four-minute video, Akio invited the great man himself up on stage.
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome to the stage my friend, Bob Carter.
Bob had a glint in his eye as he took the stage to great applause. After hugging Akio, he began to speak, choking up on occasion.
Bob expressed his gratitude to the dealers and Akio, and returned to his cherished sentiment about working at Toyota, saying, “it’s about great product and great people.”
Sharing his memories of Akio, he mentioned the 2011 Lexus GS launch when a journalist gave a critical comment: “Lexus is boring.” Bob recalled Akio’s pledge that there would be “no more boring cars” and addressed the crowd.
“Ladies and gentlemen, how do you like that product you saw today?” The audience responded with cheers and applause.
With a firm handshake, Akio told Bob that he would be forever grateful for his 41 years of service. He also revealed another surprise.
So I know you’re going to be on your motorcycle quite a bit in your retirement, unfortunately we don’t make motorcycles. But we got you a little something for the road.
From backstage, Toyota Motor North America president Tetsuo Ogawa and Bob’s successor, Jack Hollis, brought out a riding vest. Applause rang out once more as Bob slipped it on.
I like it! It’s a good look on you!
Ever since he began preparing his speech, all the way through rehearsal and right up to the last minute before taking the stage, Akio was adamant that the spotlight should be on Bob Carter.
Whenever Bob visited a dealership, he would shake hands and chat with everyone working behind the scenes, from mechanics to insurance staff. Akio expressed his utmost gratitude for this man, who both loved and was loved by his dealers.
“Do the right thing”
After watching Bob leave the stage, Akio once again turned to the dealers, highlighting the importance of such bonds.
I think we can all agree that the world is a different place than it was a few years ago. And the weight of it seems heavier. Many have benefitted from the pandemic, but the majority have struggled. And we cannot forget that.
In the past you’ve heard me say: “Do the right thing and the money will follow.”
Well today I think it really just comes down to “do the right thing.” Do the right thing for others, for your community, for the world. All of us here in this room are extremely fortunate and I hope, like me, you are equally grateful.
We have created an amazing business together. But as rosy as it seems right now, I know you are anxious about the future. I know you are worried about how this business will change.
While I can’t predict the future, I can promise you this. You, me, us, this business, this franchise model… it’s not going anywhere. It’s staying just as it is.
There is no Toyota without you. And that’s what I’d like us to appreciate most about today... our connection, our friendship, our partnership.
My job is not always easy to be sure, but everything I do, every decision I make, from products to people, to policy is made with your best interests at heart.
Because ladies and gentlemen, it’s really this simple: I love cars. I love building cars, I love driving cars, and I love selling cars with all of you.
So thank you for lifting me up today. And thank you for believing in me, in Toyota and in the strength of our future. Together, we win as one. Thank you very much.
In media interviews, Bob had said that the biggest differentiator of the Toyota brand was its relationship with dealers and the service they provide in communities.
Praising Bob’s efforts, Akio told the dealers that this relationship would not change and emphasized that Toyota was “playing to win” as it looked to the future.
Akio is not one to set target figures or make comparisons with other manufacturers. In the midst of era-defining changes, his statement showed a fierce resolve to survive and continue growing sustainably along with Toyota’s stakeholders.
The end of the speech was greeted with a long standing ovation as dealers echoed calls of “Thank you, Akio!”