The outgoing CEO of a giant autos firm had a message for his successor: Don’t be like me
After Akio Toyoda, the CEO and President of Toyota, announced he was stepping down on Thursday, he shared his advice to his successor and broke down his business philosophy.
“Rather than try to be like me, I want you to value your individuality,” he said he’d once told the incoming chief Koji Sato ahead of an important meeting. Sato had been unsure what to say and what messages to express, Toyoda explained in a translated webcast on Thursday.
“I told Sato ‘don’t try to run the company on your own, but as a team’,” Toyoda said.
Having a team made up of people with “diverse personalities” to collaborate and focus on the same goal is key to innovating, he said. Toyoda added that making changes and adapting is crucial for companies going forward as no one knows what the future holds.
Toyota is one of the biggest automotive companies in the world. It produces cars for everyday consumers, including a variety of electric and hybrid models, as well as being involved in motorsports through its Toyota Gazoo Racing brand.
In its most recent quarterly report, published in November 2022, the company said its quarterly profit had dropped by 25% and made cuts to its production targets.
Toyoda took over the company in the summer of 2009, just after the global financial crisis. It has been a difficult time since then, he acknowledged in the webcast.
“In retrospect, these 13 years have been a period of struggling to survive one day after the next, and that is my honest feeling,” he said.
Reflecting on how he managed the company throughout this time, Toyoda said that there are always two options to consider in tricky situations.
“I believe that in times of crisis two paths appear before us. One is a path towards short term success or a quick victory. The other is a path that leads back to the essential qualities and philosophies that gave us strength,” he explained.
Toyoda said that he chose the second option, which he said had helped him improve the company and establish trust in it from stakeholders by shifting what Toyota focused on.
However, following this approach can be more difficult and take a lot of time before it proves to be successful, he added. People focused on short-term wins and therefore doubted him and were not supportive of his choice, Toyoda said.
Toyoda is due to officially step down as CEO and president on April 1, and will then become chairman of the board. His successor Sato is currently chief branding officer and is the head of Toyota’s racing arm Gazoo and its Lexus division.