Very recently, former Toyota president, Tatsuro Toyoda passed away at the age of 88 of pneumonia.

See here for the story:

Here it is presented with greater perspective from inside the automotive industry itself:

What I find so interesting is that Tatsuro was not president of Toyota for very long – only a few years, as he suffered from medical issues (although he did live to the age of 88 in spite of his condition) but he still had a major impact on Toyota’s leap and penetration into the U.S. market. His involvement in the joint venture with GM back in the 90s is what gave him great insight into the domestic culture. He was able to learn an appreciation of that and marry Toyota’s drive for perfection and excellence with the mindset of the American worker. This ultimately led to the company’s very successful establishment of their production plant in Kentucky and then to others beyond that.

Never underestimate the the mindset and culture of your employees and never say “never” in presenting new ideas and systems in spite of the status quo.

Here is a very fascinating read from the Harvard Business Review regarding Toyota’s slow but steady rise to the top:

It is quite a bit lengthy of an interview from back in 2007 but the principles and philosophy laid out there by then company president Katsuaki Watanabe are priceless and still very relevant today! We all could benefit greatly from absorbing much of what he talks about there.

Some basic takeaways are:

  • Keep your focus on quality NOT necessarily quantity. (Of course if there is a way to produce quality more efficiently, then you can have your cake and eat it too…)
  • Growth needs to be steady but focused.
  • Appreciate and incorporate the domestic culture and mindset of the local work force into a visionary approach to quality and production.
  • Allow your employees to provide feedback (even if critical) and be open to the fact that your organization is not perfect and that there is always room for improvement.

Remember that it is a delicate balancing act between being the best and remaining the best. Being confident in your abilities is a very good thing up the point where you take it for granted and become cocky.

Finally, the most impressive thing (that I found from this interview and piece) is that having senior executives and employees is priceless. He states that there is room for employees over the age of 60 to stay on if they so choose. The wisdom and experience of seasoned people in the organization is a tremendous asset to a company. Unfortunately, in our business culture, we do not hear nor see that sentiment expressed all that often. Here is an example of one such company with some elders running the show:

Warren Buffet is 87 years old and his vice chairman is 94!!! – AMAZING!!

Many of us in the steel business tend to be in it for the long haul. If we would take our experience and also think about about how to innovate – even in small ways and with a long term vision – who knows? We may become the next Toyota??? 🙂

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Ben Levi – Premium Steel Sales