Shedding a tear for crying shame

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Shedding a tear for crying shame

The other highlight of Pope Francis’ speech to Congress was the tears of U.S. House Speaker John Boehner. He was crying throughout the speech.

Everyone wondered what it was about, and the next day, Boehner announced that he would resign from speakership and retire from Congress. The tears of the devout Catholic were tears of religious blessing, putting down the burdens of the mundane life. But some interpreted it as tears of defeat after being arrogant and overbearing.

Boehner’s tears reminded me of Akio Toyoda standing at U.S. Congress on February 24, 2010. The fourth generation descendent of the founding family of Toyota Motors Corporation was summoned to a congressional hearing a half year after he became CEO. For the first time since the founding of the company in 1937, Toyota became the world’s largest automaker in sales. But vehicle acceleration pedal problems led to large-scale recall and Toyota’s market share in the United States plummeted to 11.6 percent from 18.1 percent. Germany’s Volkswagen, which was focusing on the U.S. market, benefitted the most from Toyota’s fall.

In the hearing that lasted eight hours, 53-year-old Akio was asked whether he was aware of the defect and if he was knowledgeable in how acceleration pedals worked. Akio admitted his faults and apologized. Right after the hearing, he met with employees in North America and showed tears. American media reported he was not crying out of remorse. But later, Akio said, “I thought I had to protect the customers, dealers and sales outlets in the United States, but in fact, they were protecting me.”

Upon returning to Japan, he called 2,000 executives to the Nagoya headquarters and had a video conference with 9,000 others in regional and overseas offices. “You’ve all seen the hearing. Now, we start from beginning again,” he said. He cried again, but the Toyota employees knew he was crying not because he was falsely accused but that he had an awakening. Three years later, Toyota returned to the top position.

Volkswagen, which had benefitted from Toyota’s recall five years ago, is under fire for an emission scandal. And Toyota, which specializes on hybrid cars, can take advantage. The tables have turned. Just as Toyota’s recall happened right after Toyota became No. 1, Volkswagen’s emission cheating was exposed after it became the top seller in the first half of 2015. It may be a curse of being No. 1.

What can we learn from the tears of the top figures of the United States, Japan and Europe? When you become overbearing, arrogant and vain, you could fall. If you don’t care about the tears of others, you would end up weeping.

*The author is the Washington bureau chief of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 3, Page 26


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