On Tuesday, Didier Leroy, a Frenchman who was appointed in March to become Toyota Motor Corp.'s first non-Japanese executive vice president, came under fire at the annual shareholder meeting from dealers who were miffed that he speaks little Japanese. It was the first time a non-Japanese executive had addressed shareholders at Toyota's annual meeting.
Two days later, global communications chief Julie Hamp, an American who was named Toyota's first senior-level female executive in March, was arrested at a Tokyo hotel for allegedly importing a narcotic painkiller in an apparent violation of Japan's strict drug laws.
The stumbles with two high-profile foreign executives cast a pall over what had been a bold move forward in the internationalization of the world's biggest automaker. The company's outward-looking leader had elevated Hamp, Leroy and others, including an African-American executive, in the hope of injecting fresh thinking and wider global perspective into an upper management long dominated by older Japanese men. The aim of the March shake-up was to make the world's largest automaker more representative of the global markets it serves.
Toyota derives about three-quarters of its sales from overseas. About 80 percent of the company's 338,875 employees are outside Japan.
But last week's events called attention to a persistent cultural divide.
Toyota had positioned Hamp as a rising star in breathing U.S.-style public relations into an opaque Japanese operation. The 55-year-old was hired by Toyota Motor North America just three years ago as the company sought to repair an image battered by a string of recalls and class-action lawsuits. She came to Toyota after five years at PepsiCo and, before that, 25 years at General Motors.
At a hastily called evening news conference the day after Hamp's arrest, Toyoda was grilled about whether it would trigger a rethinking at Toyota about opening its doors.
The simple answer from Toyoda -- president of the company and grandson of its founder -- was no.
"We will maintain this diversity promotion policy," he said, adding that he felt a personal bond of responsibility to Hamp because she was one of his direct reports. He suggested that Toyota had not done enough to prepare Hamp for settling in Japan and adjusting to its rules and mores.
"All of them are like my children," Toyoda said of his executives. "Protecting the children is the responsibility of the parents. Ms. Hamp is a very important, trustworthy friend."