Leaders reveal thoughts on Akio's recent messages

2020.04.19

Tetsuo Ogawa, President and CEO of Toyota Motor North America

Kagawa

Next I would like to talk to Mr. Ogawa, CEO of Toyota Motor North America.

Ogawa

Hello.

Kagawa

Hello. Teruyuki Kagawa, Editor-in-Chief of Toyota Times here. Ogawa-san, which city are you in now?

Ogawa

I’m in Plano, Texas. It’s a suburb we relocated our headquarters to. We’ve been here for three years now.

Kagawa

What time is it now on your clock?

Ogawa

It’s a little before 9 at night.

Kagawa

Sorry for this late night interview.

Ogawa

Not at all.

Kagawa

You would usually be having a drinking party around this time, so apologies to bother you.

Of course, I guess you are not in a mood for that in this situation…
Could you describe what the situation is like in North America right now?

Ogawa

As an example of the 42nd Avenue in New York city, it was always crowded and there were people anytime of a day. My colleague there sent me photos, and there is really no one walking around.

Americans love to hug and shake hands, but they changed to elbow bump when greeting people. Now, even that physical contact is not happening, it’s just an exchange of the motion.

Kagawa

I see. That’s how I just said goodbye to Daniel Herrero in Argentina. It’s a trend now, isn’t it?

I want to hear what Toyota does in the region under normal situations, and how they have changed under this severe conditions. That’s what I would like to ask you to explain first.

Ogawa

We have 10 plants and 1,500 dealerships across the United States, and that’s where Toyota does community contributions. We do that under normal situations and even now in this crisis.

At this stage, we have suspended operation of all plants in North America. And our work environment has changed; we have to work from home now.

Kagawa

What is the damage to car sales so far?

Ogawa

In January and February, we were doing very well. Sales had been extremely good until the second week of March. In the third week, sales rapidly slowed down, decreased by 70 percent from the previous year. In New York and California, it is about 10 percent of last year, so sales decreased by about 90 percent.

Kagawa

Wow, that’s tough. Are you projecting something that may happen if this situation continues?

Ogawa

Regarding how to take care of customers without face-to-face contact, I want to use this opportunity to try new approaches. Also in our workstyle, now that we do meetings remotely, I have found some benefits in doing so.

Kagawa

For example?

Ogawa

When we are in office, meetings begin with small talk and there are people who don’t contribute to discussions. With remote meetings now, the purpose is made clear, like what to decide. And those who will contribute can only join.

Kagawa

Interesting. I find it interesting. In remote meetings, your face is on the screen, and that means you are facing everyone. In physical meetings, you don’t have to see faces of those sitting in the end of the room, and you can look down and pretend taking notes, but you cannot get away with that when on screen.

Ogawa

No, there’s nowhere to hide.

Kagawa

Very interesting.

Ogawa

Even after returning to normal, I think this should continue as one of the learnings from work[ing] from home.

Kagawa

I see.

Ogawa

You don’t read a lot of documents when you’re on a screen. So one page of a memo or a verbal explanation is sufficient. President Toyoda has said this many times, but this means there will be no unnecessary documents.

Kagawa

I see. It’s very interesting. It’s a silver-lining.

I hear that there are several things Toyota is doing in response to this crisis?

Ogawa

President Toyoda said in his message, “be serious but don’t be pessimistic” in Japanese. When I looked at the dictionary, the original Japanese words both mean “serious” in English.

Kagawa

In English, I see.

Ogawa

But when you worry about things you cannot control, you become pessimistic. Nothing good comes out of this mind set. So we have to ask what are the things we can control. When we think about the things we can and should do among things we can control, we become serious. I explained the meaning to our American team members. They understand now and a lot of teams are working on activities with that in mind.

For example, we have 3D printers at some of our test facilities, and some people had the idea to start printing face shields used by doctors and send them to hospitals that are running out of equipment. This started to spur suggestions from various plants, saying they can make them too, and now almost every plant is producing them. We are currently distributing 5,000 face shields a day to hospitals that request them. And dealers are thinking about what they can do for their communities, and they’re doing things like cleaning schools that are closed and distributing food to children in need.

Kagawa

Dealers are doing those things too?

Ogawa

I believe all 1,700 dealerships are doing things for their respective communities, and there are probably a lot more things they are doing that I don’t know about.

Kagawa

For the face shields, does that mean you’re taking parts that would be used in cars and modifying them to be used in face shields?

Ogawa

That’s right. We were able to use our production technology to make them. In return, we’ve received photos like this one of doctors wearing them at a hospital in Chicago. When we saw that photo, everyone was overjoyed and hugged each other. It was really nice.

Now we’ve sent messages to all of our Toyota customers with the message to take care, and gave them a contact if there was anything that we could help them with. We seem to have received quite a number of responses too.

Kagawa

There are probably requests that have nothing to do with cars because people believe that Toyota will listen and help.

Ogawa

Yes, dealerships have cars, so some are using them to deliver medicine and transporting people in need to hospitals.

Kagawa

Are Toyota members communicating with each other now in this situation?

Ogawa

Every two or three days, our management team including myself sends out video messages to all of our members about what is happening, what different places are doing and other updates.

President Toyoda also sent out the video message saying that “we are a family,” and “We are Toyota.” We’re doing these things to make sure we keep up our communication.

Kagawa

I see. You mentioned the message President Toyoda sent to the entire Toyota teams around the world. What was the reaction when you saw it?

Ogawa

The reaction to the message was tremendous. It came right at the time when everyone was starting to feel lonely and isolated. In that sense, everyone felt like the president was caring about us. And also that we are a family, we are Toyota. That message coming from the global CEO really had a great impact.

Kagawa

I see. Could I ask you now, as CEO of North America, for a message of encouragement to your members and colleagues in the entire Toyota teams?

Ogawa

Today I have the honor of being interviewed by one of Japan’s top actors, Mr. Kagawa.

Kagawa

It’s my pleasure.

Ogawa

So I myself am feeling really energized. To all members in North America and of Toyota Group who are viewing this, we are now going through a really hard time. Everyone is stressed out.

Even so, I believe we are blessed to have work. Let’s keep that in mind, and let’s continue to do things that we can control one by one. As Kagawa-san said earlier, there is no rain that never stops. So we must be prepared to do our best when it stops. Let us keep sharpening our “axes.” There will surely be a time to cut down trees.

Kagawa

Thank you. As I am sitting here and interviewing you remotely, I’m grateful for being able to talk to you while I’m in Japan and you’re in Texas.

Ogawa

That is so true.

Kagawa

Really so. Thank you very much.

Ogawa

Thank you.

Kagawa

Let’s end the interview by saying “Kenko Daiichi” together. Is that all right?

Ogawa

Of course.

Kagawa

OK, let’s say “Kenko Daiichi.” One, two, three…

Kagawa/Ogawa

Kenko Daiichi!

Kagawa

There’s a one-second lag. This is difficult! Thank you very much.

When everything returns to normal, President Toyoda promised me yesterday that he would take me out for a drive on a dirt course.

Ogawa

That can’t be done through a teleconference.

Kagawa

That’s right. When things are back to normal, I would also like to visit Dallas.

Ogawa

Of course, please do.

Kagawa

I look forward to it.

Ogawa

Thank you.

Kagawa

Thank you.

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