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Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009

Toyoda family scion got to the top fair and square

Staff writer

Akio Toyoda, 52, heir apparent to Japan's biggest automaker, may have the founding family's blood running through his veins but was not spoiled in any way as he steadily climbed the corporate ladder, a journalist said Tuesday.

"If Toyota wants to pamper Mr. Toyoda, it would not have nominated him as next president while the company's business is on a downtrend," said Aiichiro Mizushima, a business journalist who is writing a book on the automaker's next president.

Toyoda is the son of Shoichiro Toyoda and the grandson of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda.

"Mr. Toyoda has to steer the company through one of its biggest crisis," he said.

The automaker is expected to log a ¥150 billion net operating loss in the year to March, its first since March 1941, comparable data show.

Akio Toyoda, however, appears to be up to the challenge of handling the historic crisis. He has overcome several challenges in his 25-year career there and earned the respect of superiors, colleagues and subordinates along the way, Mizushima said.

He has experience in much of the company's operations. After becoming a board member in 2000, he was put in charge of running Toyota's business in China and other parts of Asia.

He became executive vice president in 2005, handling component procurement operations, domestic sales and global sales since then.

"He started to show his talent when he was put in charge of Toyota's IT business," Mizushima said.

Because he was not familiar with computers and IT technologies, he left the technical portion of the business to engineers and specialists and focused on taking the perspective of an amateur. This helped him offer ideas on developing a car navigation system from the customers' viewpoint.

The car navigation system went on to become a hit and was praised as easy to use and understand by first-time users, Mizushima said.

When it decided to enter the Chinese market, Toyota was lagging behind other carmakers, who were aggressively seeking a bigger piece of the Asian pie.

Toyoda was in charge of everything, from purchasing land for the new factory and hiring workers to negotiating with the Chinese business partners. He successfully guided Toyota through the market to get ahead of its rivals, Mizushima said.

When Toyoda decided to enter the firm at the age of 27 after working for a U.S. investment bank, his father, Shoichiro, told him the road would not be easy, Mizushima said.

"Nobody in the company wants a member of the founding family as one of their subordinates. So I will not treat you as any more special" than the other employees, his father told him, according to Mizushima.

The father's words proved true. Toyoda was assigned to a domestic dealership division, where he had to communicate daily with tough presidents of other dealerships nationwide.

Unlike other founding members who became presidents after careers in engineering, Toyoda majored in law at Keio University in Tokyo and later earned an MBA in the United States.

"He is a very outgoing and sociable person and good in sales promotion," Mizushima said. "That is why employees have high expectations for him as a well-balanced president."

The biggest task he faces after being appointed president at the general stakeholders' meeting in June, Mizushima says, is to ensure employees that he will not slash full-time workers to cut costs.

"At present, workers are worried that they might lose their jobs," he said. "If he ensures everybody of their jobs, they will be relieved and unite under Toyoda's leadership."

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The Japan Times

Article 2 of 6 in Business news

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