| TOKYO, June 23
TOKYO, June 23 His appointment to the top post
at Toyota Motor Corp (7203.T) has been compared to the
momentous return of imperial rule in Japan in 1867.
That's the kind of weight Akio Toyoda will carry as he
takes over the automaker founded by his grandfather and led in
the past by his father, uncles and other Toyodas before
non-family members held the fort for the past 14 years.
And he is sailing into uncharted waters: Toyota is headed
for its biggest loss ever amid a global recession of scale none
of his forefathers experienced and one that has claimed two
U.S. auto giants this year.
Toyoda will also be steering a company that has come to
symbolise Japan's economic might, and which last year overtook
the now-bankrupt General Motors GMGMQ.PK as the world's
top-selling automaker. With a market capitalisation of $130
billion, Toyota is Japan's most valuable company and one that
Kiichiro Toyoda, who founded the firm in 1937, would barely
The younger Toyoda, a car enthusiast and active amateur
racer, has taken a circuitous path to the top.
In a departure from common practice in Japan, he joined
Toyota mid-career in 1984 after earning a master's degree in
business administration from Babson College in Massachusetts,
and a brief stint overseas consulting in investment banking.
Once at Toyota, his roles ran the gamut of car operations,
from manufacturing to marketing and beyond. His assignments
were seen as a test of whether he was fit to take the helm one
The ascension was fast: the board of directors welcomed him
in 2000 after a relatively short 16 years at the company.
Having successfully spearheaded the gazoo.com sales and
servicing website and led Toyota's nascent Chinese operations,
Toyoda quickly rose through the ranks to become senior managing
director three years later and became one of eight executive
vice presidents in 2005.
His predecessor, Katsuaki Watanabe, took almost twice as
long to occupy each of those posts.
"NOT LIKE US SALARYMEN"
Company elders have never pretended that Akio's climb to
the top was unrelated to his family name, which was altered to
the more auspicious Toyota for the company.
When Akio's promotion to vice president raised the question
of whether he was next in line for the top post, Senior Adviser
Hiroshi Okuda answered that the Toyoda family played an
important role as a flag-bearer and binding force for the
Chairman Fujio Cho later told reporters that Toyoda family
members were special, "not like us salarymen".
Toyoda, 53, is keenly aware of the weight of that
Whatever scrutiny his three previous predecessors,
Watanabe, Cho and Okuda, faced from the Toyoda family, that
would be magnified for Akio from the rest of the company -- and
shareholders -- as he is tasked with nursing Toyota back from
While former presidents such as Eiji Toyoda and Shoichiro
Toyoda command God-like respect from employees, Akio will be
allowed few missteps as long as there are sceptics who believe
the family's small holding of around 2 percent in the company
does not merit a career advantage for those who bear its name.
Some Toyota watchers already worry that Toyoda's special
status may give him too much power with a new management team
that may be less inclined to go against him.
And critics may be all too ready to find fault even, for
example, when it comes to his passion for sports cars, saying
Toyota could lose its focus at a time when it should be
concentrating on cash cows such as the Corolla sedan.
Toyoda, who raced in the Nurburgring 24 Hours endurance
race for the third consecutive year last month, says he's
determined to live up to the name.
"I was born as a Toyoda, and I had no part in that
decision," he said when his appointment was announced in
"I don't see myself as a flag-bearer at all. All I can say
is that I will do my best to be remembered as a flag-bearer
maybe after 20, 30 years."
For related blog, go to:
n-do-the-trick-for-toyota/ (Editing by Lincoln Feast & Ian