Mitsuya "Scape" Goto
Goto helped Nissan establish its first U.S. factory in Smyrna, Tenn. Along the way, he met 35 governors.
Earliest Nissan involvement: 1969
Role: Manager in international department
Key influence: Goto, a gifted networker, guided Nissan to Smyrna, Tenn., for its first U.S. assembly plant.
During the six-year site search, Goto says, he had “the personal pleasure of meeting over 35 governors, some former governors and a number of mayors.”
Unlike many of his generation, Goto was comfortable around Americans. In 1955, he graduated from Wabash College in Indiana with a degree in speech, after giving more than 200 speeches during his college years. Just 10 years earlier, though, Goto had watched American B-29 bombers fly away after leveling his hometown of Nagoya, Japan. He recalls staring at the bombers and thinking, “My God, what have we done?”
In the early 1980s, amid tense U.S.-Japan auto trade talks, he wryly adopted the nickname “Scape,” as in “Scapegoat.”
Nissan wanted its first plant in the United States near parts suppliers in the Midwest. The governors of Illinois, Michigan and Ohio each flew Goto to sites in their states. Ohio Gov. James Rhodes once met him at the Columbus airport with a car — and a bag of fresh popcorn.
Marvin Runyon, the plant manager, wanted to be in the South. The search turned into a race between Tennessee and a site near Atlanta and Macon, Ga. Smyrna's superior rail links prevailed.
After the decision, Tennessee Gov. Lamar Alexander hosted a reception in Tokyo. He pulled out a picture of Dolly Parton and told Goto that maybe she could be part of the festivities when the first pickup came off the line.
Goto replied, “This half-ton pickup couldn't take the weight.”
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