WSJ: Toyota makes big management changes

By NEMS Daily Journal

TOKYO — After spending the past four years in a defensive crouch battling a string of crises, Toyota Motor Corp. signaled it is now ready to go on the offensive, reports The Wall Street Journal.

The Japanese auto maker today announced its biggest management overhaul since founding-family scion Akio Toyoda took over as president in 2009. The moves will open up the world’s No. 1 auto maker to its first outside directors in its 76-year history, accelerate a generational change in the executive ranks and streamline the company’s decision-making.

Toyoda said the reorganization was undertaken to better enable the company to handle growth without compromising its core values of high quality and customer service. Both these values were called into question at the start of Toyoda’s tenure during a massive recall.

“The objective of the changes being announced today is to build an organization where people can take ownership of their work as we enter a new phase of growth in vehicle sales,” Toyoda said at a news conference in Tokyo.

Toyota builds its top-selling Corolla at Northeast Mississippi’s Blue Springs facility west of Tupelo.

WSJ reports that some analysts evaluated the moves favorably, especially a decision to have company units focus on specific products, and a decision to appoint Takeshi Uchiyamada as chairman. Uchiyamada is seen as the driving force behind Toyota’s successful hybrid vehicle, the Prius, a car that symbolizes the importance of technical innovation that meets the needs of the times. He will succeed Fujio Cho, who is to become honorary chairman.

The shuffling of top management marks a generational change at Toyota, as Toyoda bids farewell to some of his closest allies. Three executive vice presidents and the current chairman will retire. Two deputies will be promoted and three outside directors will join the board.

Among the outside directors named to the board is Mark Hogan, a former General Motors Co. executive who once ran a now-dissolved California joint venture between the Japanese and U.S. auto giants.

Commenting on the move to appoint outside directors for the first time, despite the relative insularity of Japanese businesses, Toyoda said the company made the decision in an effort to improve transparency after years of requests by shareholders to take on external board members. “As a global company, we’d like people to view us as an open company,” he said.

Toyota will condense its businesses into four main units, creating a structure that that the company said should “clarify operations and earnings responsibility as well as speed up decision-making.” The units include one for the developed markets of North America, Europe and Japan, another for emerging markets such as China and Latin America, and one to run the company’s Lexus operations. The fourth unit will focus on the development and production of vehicle components such as engines and transmissions.

• Read more in Thursday’s Daily Journal.