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OBITUARY | Shoichiro Toyoda: An Outstanding Leader Who Made Toyota a Global Success

By the end of his tenure, Shoichiro Toyoda had transformed Toyota Motor Corporation into a global automaker. It is now the biggest company in Japan.



Shoichiro Toyoda
Shoichiro Toyoda (left) at the 2004 Athens Olympics to cheer judoist Ryoko Tani, who won a gold medal. He shakes hands with President Koichi Kimura of Miki House, which sponsored gold medalist Tadahiro Nomura. (© Sankei by Takashi Hirao)

Shoichiro Toyoda, honorary chairman and former president of Toyota Motor Corporation, died of heart failure on February 14 at the age of 97. Under his leadership, Toyota grew into a global automotive giant. His grandfather was Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Group.

After studying engineering at Nagoya University and completing his PhD at Tohoku University, Mr Toyoda joined the Toyota Motor Company Ltd in 1952. Then, in 1981, he became president of Toyota Motor Sales. The following year, Toyota Motor Sales and Toyota Motor Company Ltd merged to form Toyota Motor Corporation, of which he became the first president. 

He specialized in mechanical engineering and received the Deming Prize for his work as the head of Toyota's quality control management. In 2007, he became the seventh Japanese to be inducted into the US Automotive Hall of Fame. The museum honors individuals who have made significant contributions to the automotive industry.

The funeral service will be held with close family members only. Mr Toyoda's eldest son Akio Toyoda, who is the current president of Toyota Motor Corporation, will be the chief mourner.

A Centripetal Force

Mr Toyoda was the centripetal force of the Toyota Group. He laid the groundwork for Toyota to become the world's number-one automobile manufacturer. He also demonstrated outstanding leadership as chairman of the Keidanren.

After becoming the first president of Toyota Motor Corporation in 1982, he paved the way for production in the United States through a joint venture with General Motors in 1984.

Later on, Mr Toyoda became more involved in big business associations. He was keenly aware that the company needed a strategy for the global implementation of Toyota's Kanban Method, a lean manufacturing system that contributed significantly to the company's success. Furthermore, he had to deal with the Japan-US trade friction. For that, he promoted greater coordination both within and outside the industry.

Shoichiro Toyoda
Shoichiro Toyoda at the Woodrow Wilson Awards in 2006 (via Wikimedia Commons).

A Changemaker Who Loved Japan

Until then, Toyota had restricted its operations to Aichi Prefecture, showing no interest in business activities outside the Chūkyō metropolitan area. The automaker's conservatism was called the "Mikawa Monroe Doctrine" by some. Mikawa is the name of an old province that now forms the eastern half of Aichi Prefecture.

Mr Toyoda became the first person from Toyota to chair Keidanren. During his tenure, he reiterated the importance of structural and regulatory reform. In 1996, Mr Toyoda announced his long-term vision: "the creation of an attractive Japan."

The vision incorporated Mr Toyoda's desire to reform Japan into a country where young people have hope for the future — a place where people from around the world would come to establish a life, start a business, and study. 


After his eldest son Akio became Toyota's president in 2009, Mr Toyoda continued to be attentive to the company's progress. A reporter recalls that Mr Toyoda once asked him about Akio's reputation. It was clear that Mr Toyoda cared deeply about Akio's work.

Many will remember the time when Mr Toyoda watched judo at the 2004 Athens Olympics. He was cheering for judoka Ryoko Tani, who was a former employee of Toyota. When she won the gold medal, he jumped up, overwhelmed with joy. 


(Read the related articles in Japanese.)

Author: The Sankei Shimbun

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