Shoichiro Toyoda, the second-generation leader of Japanese auto giant Toyota, died on 14th February at the age of 97 years. He was the son of the company’s founder Kiichiro Toyoda and the father of the current president and CEO, Akio Toyoda (his eldest son).
He began his career with Toyota Motor Corporation in 1952 having earlier graduated from Nagoya University with a degree in engineering. He later earned an engineering doctorate, writing his thesis on the subject of fuel injection. Shoichiro took over Toyota when it was a struggling Japanese brand in the 1950s and, within three decades, brought in assembly-line techniques and quality-control standards that became the industry pacesetter.
Mr. Toyoda reinforced a devotion to detail that remains ingrained in Toyota’s corporate culture. A study by Harvard Business Review noted that Shoichiro Toyoda’s rules included turning off the company lights at lunchtime to save money and designing offices to take every inch into account for maximum use and cost-benefit.
As Toyota’s plants expanded outside Japan, Mr. Toyoda rigidly enforced the company’s “just-in-time” inventory philosophy that had factories able to shift production models quickly to respond to shifting consumer demands. Yet he also could make bold and unexpected moves. In 1990, he upended the structure of middle management, taking away staff and subordinates to make the executives deal directly with lower-level workers.
The move reflected his belief in “genchi genbutsu,” or the importance of seeing things firsthand. Under Shoichiro Toyoda’s leadership, Toyota grew its presence worldwide to join the top ranks of global car brands by the late 1980s and become one of the flagships of the Japan Inc. economic powerhouse.
Shoichiro Toyoda served in many posts during his long career in which automotive technology and quality control were primary emphases. He became managing director in 1961 and following promotions to senior managing director in 1967, and executive vice president in 1972, he was named president of Toyota’s sales organization in 1981. Following the merger of the sales and production organizations in 1982 he became president of the newly integrated TMC (Toyota Motor Corporation), serving later as chairman of the board between 1992 and 1999. Shoichiro Toyoda served on the board for 57 years and assumed the position of honorary chairman in 2009 until his death.
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