[FOUNTAIN]Business tips from ToyotaPeople who visit the headquarters of Toyota Motor Corporation in Toyota, Aichi Prefecture for the first time are surprised. The office appears paltry, with peeling cabinets and outmoded desktop computers scattered around. When looking at the old dial phones on the desk, it makes one ponder, “Isn’t this out-of-date for such an industrial giant?”
The unspectacular vernacular spoken by the top board of directors at Toyota resembles the humble demeanor of the office buildings, a prime example being the deft executive Hiroshi Okuda, who became the chairman of Toyota in 1995 and rescued the company. Right before leaving his position in June of last year, he astonished people by saying, “The only new device we invented independently in the Japanese automotive field was the folding side mirror.” He responded in this unexceptional, irrelevant manner to a question posed about his secret for keeping profits over 1 trillion yen (about $8.4 billion) every year.
The press dubbed his successor, Fujio Cho, the “black hole.” When he became the chairman of Toyota, Time Magazine in 2004 named Mr. Cho as one of the world’s 100 most influential people. However, he was unpopular with overzealous reporters because when asked the question, “When will you beat GM?” he always responded listlessly, “We thank our customers,” and, “We will work hard.” There was no need to prod the U.S. automotive industry, which was going through difficult times. However, some have portrayed Toyota’s humility and caution as being excessively timid.
Toyota once again prostrated itself as soon as it was evident that Toyota had sold more cars than GM for the first time (Toyota had set a goal of selling 9,340,000 cars). President Katsuaki Watanabe spoke apathetically at a year-end press conference, saying, “We were able to (come in first) because we ardently adhered to our philosophy of perpetual improvement, but coming in first was not our goal.” It seemed as if he was apologizing for defeating a country that had been the cornerstone of automobiles for the past hundred years.
Whenever the company was doing well, in order to incite employees who might rest on their laurels, former CEO Okuda used to say, “Toyota’s greatest competitor is Toyota.” We have a significant number of global companies expecting to do well this year. If these companies become conceited, our struggling economy will worsen. It might be a good idea for these companies to remember the behavior of the industrial giant Toyota and remember the epigram, “Good is the enemy of great” (from “Good to Great” by Jim Collins).
The writer is a deputy business editor of the JoongAng Ilbo
by Hong Seung-il