Sunday, June 24, 2007

American on board at Toyota

A white male isn't ususally speaking from the minority side of the diversity divide.
But Jim Press is the first non-Japanese to join the board of Toyota ( my story on his promotion winning shareholder approval last week).
He talks very softly _ Japanese style _ and says much of Toyota's corporate culture is Japanese _ hence the understatement about becoming No. 1.
I asked him about that: Why Toyota officials keep saying they aren't making beating GM/becoming No. 1 their goal, when reaching the top would seem like a victory for a company.
"Do you read your own headlines? Do you believe it? Would you forget how you got there, if you were? I don't see any benefit in that. Customers don't care who's No. 1."
Then Press asked me where I was from _ to make sure I understood Japanese culture.
"There's no satisfaction of beating somebody," he said. "That's not something you're proud of, is it?"
I had to say:
"Sometimes we like to beat Reuters."
His reply:
"But you're not a Japanese company, are you?"
How can Toyota become more American?
Toyota is already an American company, he said.
He said Toyota has a "hybrid" culture _ clever how he got the automaker's key technology in there!
Press compared Toyota to the immigrant who becomes American _ yet continues to be proud of his/her roots:
"At how many generations removed from the original immigrant do you lose your identity? None. You should keep that. That's part of diversity. You keep the strength of what makes you different, what makes you good and successful. But you're doing it in that country. We want to be the best company in America _ period."


Anonymous said...

I just don't buy it!! The auto industry is competitive. It does not matter if it is a major car company based in Japan, China, Sweden or wherever. The car business--car sales--is a race and Toyota is also about speed and placing first in the "race." It's in their DNA. It is an integral part of car companies' corporate cultures. For example, Toyota recently joined NASCAR. They want to insure Camry remains #1 in sales in the US and they also are striving to outsell Detroit in the large truck arena. Toyota is not spending billions on racing worldwide to come in second or third. The average consumer does care where a car manufactuer places in a race--any race. When Mr. Press denies this, he is contradicting himself. He has repeatedly said that competition makes Toyota better. So perhaps Toyota does not have it as a "SPOKEN" corporate goal. However, "UNSPOKEN" corporate values and beliefs are every bit as poweful as the spoken and sometimes more powerful because they are denied and UNEXAMINED!

Yuri Kageyama said...

Right, I don't see Toyota rolling over and playing dead. Everything they are doing shows they're fiercely determined to be No. 1. But are they being deceitful when they say they aren't making that their overt goal? I'll continue to keep asking this question every time I get a chance. Stay tuned. But I think it's genuine they fear a fascination with being No. 1 can be dangerous, grow into arrogance, and that could backfire on a manufacturer. When they say they want to be No. 1 with the customer, heck, that means they want to sell the most number of cars possible, and that means, yes, Toyota wants to be No. 1.