TOKYO -- Akio Toyoda is re-nowned as Toyota's driving CEO, at home spinning doughnuts in the mud for race fans or pushing a Camry stock car flat out around a banked oval.
But he was a late bloomer.
The wealthy grandson of Toyota Motor Corp.'s founder took his first tentative competitive racing laps only 10 years ago, just two years before assuming the helm as president. His family discouraged him from driving. Fearful for his safety, fellow company officers did, too.
But today, Toyoda not only runs the company, he is its anointed "master driver" -- the final arbiter of what makes a Lexus a Lexus and a Toyota a Toyota.
Knowing how to race, not just drive, makes him like no other president in Toyota's history.
"Everybody says I'm the racer-president, or they call me master driver," Toyoda, 61, said in an interview this month. "That's all correct. But I see my role as being the guardian of the taste of Toyota and Lexus cars."