LOS ANGELES -- Jim Press' departure from Toyota means the loss of the lone non-Japanese voice on the company's board of directors - and probably less influence in Japan for Toyota's U.S. operations.
"Toyota has lots of smart American thinkers, but none had the voice or the seat that Jim did," said a Toyota insider, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
"Operationally, this won't make a big difference," the insider added. "But Toyota is going to lose something strategically in the voice that intimately represents the U.S. market. It's a significant loss."
Press, 60, had been Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.'s top-ranking American executive since 1999. Last year he was named COO of Toyota Motor North America. This year he became the first American appointed to Toyota Motor Corp.'s board. Until another American reaches those heights, U.S. influence on Toyota policy will be reduced.
"The Japanese still think Americans are impetuous, ready-fire-aim cowboys," the insider said. "They get nervous about how much they've invested here. The Japanese will watch the U.S. more closely these days."
Toyota's top-ranking American executive is Jim Lentz, executive vice president of Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. But Lentz is not one of the parent company's 47 managing officers, much less one of the 29 remaining senior managing directors, as Press was.
Steve Sturm, Press' right-hand executive at Toyota Motor North America, said his colleagues were shocked at Press' exit.
"He was a big advocate for the U.S. operations and contributed to our success," said Sturm, Toyota Motor North America's group vice president of Americas strategic research and planning. "This kind of thing doesn't happen a lot."
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