Toyota shake-up brings diversity – Gives clout to relative newcomers
March 9, 2015
TOKYO -- Toyota Motor Corp. has promoted a Frenchman, an American woman and an African-American man to unprecedented positions of power at its global headquarters. But its new diversity drive goes far beyond ethnicity and gender.
In an equally pivotal break with tradition, Toyota upgraded a crop of relative newcomers, who lack the years of schooling in the Toyota Way once deemed a prerequisite for advancement.
The shuffle, part of wide-ranging annual management changes, parachutes the executives into key global decision-making roles. The aim: inject new perspective and best practices into a sometimes-Byzantine corporate hierarchy.
While the push loosens Toyota's ossified seniority system, it also could dilute a corporate culture that has long been copied by envious rivals and credited with being the Japanese carmaker's most important, intangible weapon.
"That's the change under Akio Toyoda," Kurt Sanger, an auto analyst at Deutsche Securities Japan, noted. "He embraces that risk. He doesn't live in fear of that risk."
Changes at HQ
Here are some of Toyota's latest personnel moves. Some await shareholder approval at the June annual meeting.
Didier Leroy, EVP, board member
As the first non-Japanese EVP and only the second inside director, the current head of Toyota Europe will oversee r&d, operations in North America, Europe and Africa, sales in Japan, and regional product planning, design and motorsports.
Shigeki Terashi, EVP
The former head of North American r&d moves up to EVP, heads a new unit developing connected automobiles. He remains a board member.
Julie Hamp, chief communications officer
As the first female managing officer, the former North American PR boss will be based in Japan.
Christopher Reynolds, chief legal officer
As the first African-American managing officer, Reynolds moves up from a similar post in North America.
Koei Saga, unit center president
Saga loses his seat on a shrinking Toyota board but takes charge of powertrain development.
Satoshi Ogiso, retiring
Toyota didn't identify the next assignment for the high-profile leader of Toyota's hybrid and alternative drivetrain programs, but a local media report says he'll go to the brake subsidiary of Toyota Group supplier Aisin Seiki.
A fine line
President Toyoda, grandson of the carmaker's founder and the third family member at the helm, walks a fine line.
He champions a back-to-basics campaign focused on the company's core principles. But, at the same time, he aims to reform one of the most Japanese of Japanese companies into a business more representative of its global reach.
As the world's biggest automaker, Toyota derives about three-quarters of its sales from overseas.
About 80 percent of the company's 338,875 employees are outside Japan.
"By appointing talented people from affiliates outside Japan to executive positions, Toyota aims to foster innovation by enabling people from many different backgrounds to contribute and provide input," Toyota said in a statement about the changes.
To be sure, the company is not appointing greenhorns to head its core operations of manufacturing and engineering. Instead, the promotions are focused on areas, such as legal affairs and public affairs, where the company's Japanese operations sometimes trailed its U.S. units in modernizing. And a host of other promotions went to Toyota lifers.
Among the newcomers is Julie Hamp, the North America communications chief who was promoted as the first female managing officer at the parent company. She will be based in Japan and oversee global public affairs and external affairs.
Hamp joined Toyota only in 2012. She spent 25 years at General Motors in communications and marketing and then ran communications at PepsiCo before coming to Toyota.
Toyota's new top lawyer, a newly created position, is also a relative neophyte. Christopher Reynolds, who led legal affairs in North America during the unintended acceleration crisis, will be Toyota's first African-American managing officer.
He joined Toyota in 2007 and will split time between Japan and the U.S.
The people tapped to replace Hamp and Reynolds have even shorter histories at the carmaker.
Sandra Phillips, also African-American, will take over Reynolds' role as general counsel and chief legal officer in North America. She joined Toyota in 2012, after practicing litigation strategy at a Houston law firm.
Scott Vazin, who succeeds Hamp as North America's communications boss, has been with Toyota about six months, after stints at Volks-wagen, Nissan and Mitsubishi.
Jeffrey Liker, a longtime Toyota watcher who documented much of its corporate culture in his book The Toyota Way, said it is unusual for Toyota to elevate outsiders so high. But Toyota's screening of new hires obsesses on whether a candidate's mindset is a good match, he said.
"The benefits of diversified experiences and thinking on the board," he said, "far outweigh any risks of diluting the culture."
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