Some Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A. insiders thought it was career suicide to join the startup Lexus Division and leave the Toyota-brand mother ship. They tried to talk their friends and proteges out of it.
One young executive who took a chance on the top-secret Lexus project was Dave Illingworth, who went on to become Lexus Division general manager. Today he is 64 and senior vice president, chief planning and administrative officer at Toyota Motor Sales.
The problem back then was that Lexus wasn't even gestated when Illingworth left his Toyota post. His title was simply "corporate manager for special projects." Few within the company knew what Illingworth's job really was.
Illingworth said that when he joined the project, his friends at Toyota assumed that he had been banished to Siberia and that his promising career was over. Even after the Lexus secret was out, he said, some Toyota-brand colleagues deplored how the new division would spread company resources too thin.
The sibling rivalry occasionally became heated, but Illingworth was confident that he had the support of top executives.
Illingworth spoke with Mark Rechtin about his Lexus days.