2020 ALL STAR | GLOBAL CEO
Toyota Motor Corp.
When the COVID-19 pandemic throttled the global auto industry, Akio Toyoda didn’t panic. Instead, he struck a “don’t worry, be happy” note and attempted a balanced, but careful approach to helping his namesake company and all of Japan’s auto industry weather the storm.
“Don’t worry too much, but be earnest and help each other,” Toyoda urged back in March, speaking in his role as chairman of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association. “At a time like this, we should smile and do everything we can to overcome the situation. So smile, smile.”
Toyoda, 64, shut plants when necessary but kept them operating when it could — especially in Japan. He also channeled the might of the entire Toyota Group — its constellation of suppliers such as Denso and Aisin Seiki — into making face shields, face masks, hospital beds and disinfectant.
Combined with his longtime, relentless improvement of cost control and efficiency, this approach kept Toyota profitable, while all its Japanese rivals posted losses.
Toyoda spent years remaking his company so it could survive the next crisis, and when it came, he was ready.
At home and abroad, production at Japan’s biggest automaker bounced back faster than at many competitors. And by the end of the year, Toyota was planning to ramp up output past full capacity to make up for lost ground. As for earnings, it kept revising those forecasts higher, too.
Throughout the tumult, Toyoda kept an unflinching focus on the future.
He kept R&D investment flowing, plowed ahead with his Woven City new mobility experiment in the foothills of Mount Fuji, kept the hammer down on developing a moon rover to be launched by the end of the decade and transformed the group’s TRI-AD autonomous-driving subsidiary into a new unit that will make next-gen software for tomorrow’s programmable vehicles.
COVID-19? For Toyoda, it was just another bump in a long, long road.