TOKYO - Fujio Cho, the genial head of Toyota Motor Manufac-turing Inc. through the 1980s, always wanted to flip hamburgers at the annual Rotary Club horse show in Georgetown, Ky. But the other Japanese Rotarians got that job. Cho was left to collect tickets at the reception desk.
It was an apt task. For years, CEO Cho acted as a gatekeeper, taking ideas from one culture or another, and encouraging people to come in and see what Toyota's production system offered. That included an endless stream of competitors who wanted to see Toyota's first full-scale, wholly owned factory outside Japan and to understand how the system worked.
When Cho and about 60 other Japanese came to Kentucky to set up the Georgetown operation, hundreds of Americans went to Japan to learn production methods. In turn, Toyo-ta's American personnel later played host when the carmaker set up a British factory and sent about 150 new hires to Kentucky for training.
The learning was not just one-way, Cho says. 'We had to mix into the local community. That raised our awareness of good corporate citizenship,' he recalls.
So Toyota became more involved in philanthropy back home. For example, Toyota now sponsors members of the Berlin symphony on a trip to Japan every year, where they play for nursing homes.
Cho, now a Tokyo-based Toyota director, invites his friends to come along. But he no longer takes the tickets at the door.