DALLAS — When Jim Lentz took over as CEO of Toyota Motor North America four years ago, he sat down with global boss Akio Toyoda to get his "marching orders." But he got a surprise as well.
"He said you need to develop a plan," Lentz recalled in an interview with Automotive News last week. Lentz responded by explaining a seven-year blueprint that he and his team developed.
"And he kind of smiles and looks at me and goes, 'You don't understand. What can you do today to make your business sustainable for the next 50 years?'"
That launched Lentz and his North American team on a journey that crosses a major milestone next month with the inauguration of its new headquarters in Plano, Texas, and the forging of what is internally known as One Toyota. The idea was to bring most North America functions together to spur collaboration and quicker decision-making by groups that were in California, New York and Kentucky.
The reorganization is complete, Lentz told Automotive News, and move-in days are coming for the 2,200 people at temporary offices in Plano and hundreds more who will arrive by year end.
"We basically looked at all the functions we perform — and there are about 29 different functions — and we decided which would remain in a pillar, for lack of a better term, so sales functions, r&d functions, manufacturing functions," Lentz said. "But then the functions that cut across all that — finance and accounting, legal, corporate communications — we created a new organization with all of those teams."
Lentz said the timing of the consolidation and reorganization is right given the challenges of an industry that seems to be torn in different directions, and yet moving at an unprecedented pace.
With One Toyota, he said, "we are in the process right now of getting this entire team together so we can tackle challenges like we have today much, much quicker."
Those challenges include an apparent sales plateau in the U.S., albeit at a high number. Lentz feels confident that strong product will get Toyota through it without the need for excessive incentives.
"I'm investing $10 billion here in the next five years, mostly in plants, so I can build better cars," Lentz said.
The longer game is tough to predict even for Lentz, who has spent four decades in the business.
"We're going to put small bets on a lot of different areas because my crystal ball's not clear enough to know definitively what direction customers are going to go," Lentz said.