Osamu Suzuki, the longest-serving president of a major world automaker, is stepping up, but definitely not out.
Suzuki, 70, who has been president of Suzuki Motor Corp. since June 1978, became chairman after the annual shareholders meeting June 29. Masao Toda, 65, moved up from vice president to president and COO.
Suzuki said the division of CEO and COO duties would leave Toda, who rose through the company's engine-development operations to become its technical head, in charge of technology, manufacturing and purchasing.
'I will support the new president, not the other way around. Isn't that proper?' Suzuki said.
Maybe. Announcing the change, Suzuki made it clear he will remain an active manager. He fielded all questions from the press, including those on India, where Suzuki's Maruti Udyog Ltd. affiliate dominates the market, and on ties with General Motors, which owns 10 percent of Suzuki.
Quietly and deferentially, Toda answered only those questions posed directly to him. At one point, he pulled out a book written by Suzuki, and said, 'I read this every day.'
Suzuki is a one-time, self-avowed 'loan shark' who married the daughter of the founder of the car and motorcycle maker. Because the founder had no male heir, Suzuki took his wife's family name, often the custom in Japan.
He built Suzuki Motor into a global power through an unbending commitment to small cars, rigorous slashing of manufacturing costs, conservative fiscal practices and aggressive entries into such developing markets as India, China and Hungary.
Along with truckmaker Isuzu Motors Ltd., Subaru-maker Fuji Heavy Industries Ltd. and Fiat Auto, Suzuki is linked to GM. GM has publicly named Suzuki to be its small-car specialist, but the Japanese carmaker has insisted on maintaining a strict independence.