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Shoichiro Toyoda, Japanese Business Manager, 1925 — 2023

On his first overseas business trip in the late 1950s, Shoichiro Toyoda made the biggest mistake of his career.

Thirty-two years old at the time, Mr. Toyoda gave the go-ahead for Toyota to export its first passenger car, the Crown, to the United States.

“It was a disaster,” Toyoda wrote in his 2015 book. Believe in the future, step by step“But I learned an important lesson and continued my challenge of developing a quality passenger car that works well anywhere in the world.”

That challenge has been through the height of trade tensions between Washington and Tokyo in the 1980s, the bursting of Japan’s real estate and stock market bubbles, and the banking crisis of the 1990s that dragged the country into a long period of stagnation. One of the great post-war industrialists.

Mr. Toyoda (left) inspecting a light truck production line at a factory in Taiwan in 1988 © Yang Chi-hsien/AP

Mr. Toyoda, who died at the age of 97, navigated these events with a focus on quality, cost efficiency and people. He laid the groundwork to transform what his grandfather Sakichi Toyoda had started as a loom manufacturer into the world’s largest automobile manufacturer by sales.

“He has grown Toyota into the world’s number one automobile manufacturer and has led the Japanese automobile industry. As chairman of Keidanren, he became the driving force of the Japanese economy and made a great contribution,” said Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

Toyoda was born in Nagoya in 1925. The eldest son of automobile manufacturer founder Kiichiro Toyoda, who studied engineering at Nagoya University and earned a PhD at Tohoku University, wanted to pursue a career independent of his family business.

A helmeted woman is flanked by two men in suits holding shovels on fresh dirt.

Eiji Toyoda (left) with Kentucky Governor Martha Layne Collins and Shoichiro at a press conference marking the start of construction of a plant in Georgetown, Kentucky, 1986 © Tom Moran/AP

However, when Toyoda was 27 years old, his father died suddenly. He was called to join the group and learned about running a car manufacturing business from his father’s cousin. age.

“My father never asked me to join Toyota, and I never intended to. Toyoda wrote in 2015.

Still, following its disastrous first attempt to enter the US market, Toyota revived in 1968 with the best-selling Corolla of all time.

Mr. Toyoda replaced Mr. Eiji as president in 1982 and led the company until 1992, overseeing the expansion of Toyota’s global manufacturing footprint in North America, Europe and Southeast Asia.

“Toyota’s global strategy started under Eiji, but it was Shoichiro who accelerated it,” said Takashi Kamio, a former public relations executive at Toyota who worked with Toyoda for 40 years. .

In 1984, Toyota entered into a joint venture with General Motors in California as Japanese automakers grabbed market share from the beleaguered industry in Detroit and US protectionism grew. Four years later, when the company began production at its Kentucky plant, Toyota promised to “work hard to be a good citizen of Kentucky and America.” Toyota expanded its offering in the United States with the launch of the luxury Lexus brand.

As head of Japan’s Keidanren business lobby in the mid-1990s, Mr. Toyoda was influential in lobbying the government to lower corporate taxes and deregulate them. Over time, Toyota became a model for Japanese companies. The company also built an intricate network of cross-holdings and later questioned its governance structure.

A man in a business suit sits at the steering wheel of a car.

Shoichiro unveiling the Toyota Opa model in Tokyo in 2000 © Reuters

But Mr. Toyoda himself is widely remembered as a humble person who enjoyed being challenged and was generous with his time. “He was like an emperor in the business world, but Shoichiro was always considerate and everyone looked to him for advice,” said the construction group that helped build Mr. Toyoda’s house in Aichi Prefecture. Toshinobu Obata, chairman of a Meiji University, said,

Toyoda served as chairman of Toyota for seven years until 1999, and retained the title of honorary chairman until his death. He is survived by his wife and daughter, and his son Akio. get off In April, he was appointed president for the first time in about 14 years.

In 2014, Akio said, “I ask my father about a lot of things, but he’s not the kind of person to answer.” ”

https://www.ft.com/content/c6108bce-8135-45fe-bb2d-9dc24e2edc53 Shoichiro Toyoda, Japanese Business Manager, 1925 — 2023

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