Akio Toyoda seems to be rising like a rock star as highlighted in recent news articles. The press and loyal company employees like rock star CEO’s, why not, they’re fun to cover and they make you feel good about working at just another car company. However, what goes up must come down and over the past 20 years I’ve been in the industry, I note the press in particular love tearing down a CEO more than they enjoy building him up. Also, I’ve noticed the effect of being in the glow of the spotlight has on leaders who once had elephant skin turn skittish on bad press. Worse, internally, leaders who relentlessly followed the business, turn to “bigger issues” and instead of getting their organization to focus first on problems rather than affixing blame, they run the risk of evolving into protecting their well publicized legacy, sometimes at the expense of the enterprise.
It’s great for Akio-san to get credit, and personally, I think that after two years of being pummeled by everything from questionable US government hype over unintended acceleration, earthquakes, floods and a horrendous macro environment, it’s good to get some positive hype. BUT … and there is always a but … he needs to be very cautious.
I can’t imagine that the old guard at Toyota is loving his new flashy image, and they still wield influence to get things done, or more importantly, to not get things done. Also, he needs to remember that the press who praise him now, will tear him apart once they tire of him. That is when he will really need to have thick skin. Just a word of caution!
Comment: Toyota is poised to pick up the pace as they have finally filled the supply chain holes from the March earthquake and recent Thai floods. Volumes will pick up precipitously, but profits will be much slower to recover as the yen remains a drug. Nevertheless, expect improvement next fiscal year as things even out by the end of Q1 in June 2012.
I put my money on more subtle stable leaders, and if Akio Toyoda asked me, I’d advise him to follow discretion of people like Alan Mullaly, Katsuaki Watanabe and Hiroyuki Yoshino. If you don’t know who they are off the top of your head, you know the Ford story of avoiding a US bailout, the Toyota juggernaut of the last 15 years and Honda’s solid performance at the same time.