Today, the next generation of Toyoda scions stands ready to take over. Shuhei Toyoda, 60, Eiji's son, is the president of interior supplier Toyota Boshoku Corp. He moved to the parts maker after a career at Toyota Motor. At one point he led Toyota in Europe and seemed a candidate for the carmaker's top job.
Akio Toyoda, Shoichiro's son, graduated from Babson College in Massachusetts. The school's mission is to educate scions of family-owned companies so they can take over the business. Edsel Ford II is another alumnus.
Akio later worked at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., Toyota's joint venture with General Motors in Fremont, Calif. He also headed Toyota's China business, all manufacturing across Asia and its purchasing operations. Today, Akio, 51, is in charge of Japan sales and is widely considered a likely future president of Toyota.
If Akio becomes president, it would not be a return to power for the Toyoda family. They never really left. True, the last three presidents of Toyota Motor Corp., including incumbent Katsuaki Watanabe, came from outside the family. And it also is true that the family's official control of the carmaker is weak. No member of the family owns more than 4 percent.
But influence? That's another matter. When Toyodas speak, the company listens.
As several tales in this special issue show, many of the most critical choices that Toyota Motor faced were decided by someone named Toyoda: setting up NUMMI, launching Lexus. The list goes on.
Even today, Shoichiro, 82, shows up sometimes at new-vehicle launches. He stands quietly in the background. He's not there to upstage the current management. He just wants to see for himself how things are going. It's the Toyota tradition of genchi genbutsu — go and see for yourself.
And Eiji, 94, is known to send e-mails to company managers from a laptop attached to his walker at the hospital where the aging patriarch lives.
Why would anyone listen to a nonagenarian with no official title at the company? Because he has earned their respect.
Respect for the family is deeply ingrained at the carmaker. Current President Watanabe makes that clear. He devoted a good part of his latest press conference on the company's business plan to the Toyoda Precepts (see list above). The language may seem antiquated, he said, but these dictums, laid down by Sakichi Toyoda, are enduring guidelines that are as relevant to Toyota's success today as they ever were.
Cars come and go. But at Toyota, the influence of the family continues, and the company is the better for it.