February 25, 2010 / 1:40 AM / 10 years ago

Split decision on Toyoda's congressional performance

DETROIT (Reuters) - Crisis management communications experts gave Toyota Motor Corp President Akio Toyoda roses and rotten tomatoes on his appearance before a U.S. congressional committee on Wednesday.

Four experts interviewed by Reuters were split evenly on whether Toyoda performed well and whether his appearance would help stem damage to the world’s biggest automaker.

“Oh, man, did he miss the mark,” said Lauren Bloom, author of the 2008 book, “The Art of the Apology.”

“I thought he did OK,” said Gene Grabowski, senior vice president of Levick Strategic Communications in Washington.

“He touched all the right bases,” Grabowski said. “He apologized. He announced the creation of this expert panel (on quality). That’s a really good move at a congressional hearing because it demonstrates that you are committing resources to the issue and they are assigning responsibility.”

Toyoda, the 53-year-old grandson of the company’s founder, was peppered with questions from members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee for more than three hours.

Joel Kurtzman, author of “Common Purpose,” a book on management and leadership, said Toyoda underperformed.

“His performance is poor because he essentially looked like he was reading from a brochure,” said Kurtzman, adding Toyoda’s comments he said could have been written by a Toyota executive decades ago.

But Chris Gidez, director of risk management and crisis communications at public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, said Toyoda did well.

“He gets points for showing up,” said Gidez.”At the end of the day, judgments won’t be made good or bad in just one hearing. This is going to be a marathon for Toyota. Considering the theater of congressional hearings, the company seems to be doing as well as can be expected,” Gidez said.

Reporting by Bernie Woodall

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