That version of diversity allowed Toyota to use the strengths and discard the weaknesses of all the lessons learned at those other companies. But it's disappearing as Toyota becomes inbred, with lots of executive trainees hired straight out of college and knowing only The Toyota Way.
But expanding the mix can be risky, too. "If I were at Toyota, I wouldn't be going out looking for outsiders," says Lean, 80. "It could be a real morale problem for employees to think positions and promotions are being given to someone from the outside, just because they are coming in from the outside."
He says that the answer is not more diversity inside the company but more input from folks outside the corporation.
"They need to listen more to the superdealers, the guys who have holdings in many brands, like a Mercedes-Honda-Nissan dealer," says Lean. "These guys can tell you if a plan is good, bad or indifferent."
Says Dave Illingworth: "The challenge is that we are a much bigger company than we were in the early '80s. Back then you didn't have the employee base to pull from, so you had to go outside." Illingworth, 64, is chief planning and administrative officer for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A.
But that means knowing the way through the corporate bureaucracy has become more critical.
"Today our challenges are a lot more difficult, and the people you need to solve them need to know the culture of the company and where to go to get things done," Illingworth says. "When you pull someone from outside the company, it's hard because they don't know where to go and how to do it.
"Back when Norm Lean was doing it, it was four or five people in a room; you'd know everybody. Now we have 5,500 people. It's not that simple."
Don Esmond, Toyota Motor Sales' 63-year-old senior vice president of automotive operations, was one of the "Legionnaires," joining Toyota from Ford in 1982. He sees both sides.
"Like the French Foreign Legion, you end up having your own culture," he says. "When I was at Toyota Division, we came up with our core values probably two or three years before Toyota published The Toyota Way guidelines. You match up the core values to The Toyota Way, and it's almost exactly the same. There are some instilled values that are a plus."
Esmond says he has confidence in the executives "who only have Toyota experience," citing Bob Carter, general manager of Toyota Division, as an example. But, he adds, a Toyota-only resume might not have prepared them fully for the kinds of challenges that could accompany Toyota's growth into new products and new segments.
"There are going to be different problems popping up," Esmond says. "Adversity will come up sooner or later. There probably are district managers and department managers who may not always have had good times, but they haven't had the tougher times. We have talked about it in terms of ensuring how we grow. You could be challenged in the future if you don't change with the times."