Robertson had a lower-level job in Toyota's supply chain management organization at the time of the 2011 disaster. He said Toyota's purchasing and supply chain management operations have a much stronger grasp today of the condition of the automaker's Tier 1, Tier 2 and Tier 3 suppliers — as well as further down the chain — than they might have a decade ago.
"One of the things that we've improved on over the years is being able to grasp [suppliers'] conditions quickly, to find out where those bumps and bruises are, and then try to find ways to work around it," including substituting materials or even adjusting production, Robertson said. "If we know a supplier is struggling, we'll reach out to the supplier and offer some assistance."
Unlike the earthquake and tsunami, COVID-19 presented a broader and longer geographic threat, with Toyota's own production suspended and different suppliers facing their own issues trying to keep production running, Robertson said. Yet Toyota's playbook continued to work.
"The processes that we go through are the same. The problem is, there are more issues with COVID," Robertson explained. "It's the same type of activity and actions. The countermeasures we look for are similar, and we've just got to kind of run and push through them."