Alma mater matters: Why Babson College is Toyota's special partner

Toyota is forging strong ties with Babson College. In 2010, the Toyota Production System Support Center gave an undisclosed sum to Babson's Social Innovation Lab so it could teach students about the company's renowned manufacturing methods.

This spring, Babson is offering a hands-on undergraduate class that shows how to apply the Toyota Production System in the real world, by tweaking the Greater Boston Food Bank's fresh food distribution center, called the Marketplace.

"TPS is all about flow," said Jamie Bonini, vice president of the Toyota Production System Support Center.

Babson students sought to ensure that the Marketplace has a "smooth flow" by examining and modifying everything from the layout of the building to the way it stocks and replenishes its food supply, he said.

"This is a very good fit," Bonini said, "because [Babson] has structured a class that has application work, allowing students to learn by doing."

But what makes Babson a good fit with Toyota?

The suburban Boston school has strong programs in entrepreneurship, business and accounting.

But it doesn't have an engineering or manufacturing program. Nor is it close to any of Toyota's U.S. operations, whether factories, the finance offices in New York, the current regional headquarters in Torrance, Calif., or the future HQ in Plano, Texas.

But the college does have one link to the automaker, a Babson alumnus: Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda.