Eiji Toyoda has left us aged 100, one of the fathers of lean thinking and TPS, Eiji Toyoda was a significant contributor to the Toyota we know of today, but more than this he was a shaper and designer of what I believe to be one of the greatest companies of the modern era.
He served and steered Toyota for longer than any other leader in the history of the motor company.
I was fortunate to meet Eiji Toyoda in 1992 when he visited our Toyota plant in the UK and he was amongst the guests of honour when we had our Engine Plant plant opening ceremony that year.
It’s a long time ago now and I wish I had made more notes on his speech, but I do remember being inspired by his speech on the growth and vision for Toyota world-wide.
He seemed old to me, in his 80’s then and full of wisdom and experience.I have never forgotten his presence.
The one thing I have learned from the Toyota leaders is how they tell stories that make you think and engage you in the fundamental principles and philosophies of the organization. I believe that “lean” has more of its foundations in its principles, values and philosophies, than in the tools we always hear about. The tools and techniques are nothing more than methods for solving a problem that Toyota had at the time, but the power of the culture and organization sits in how people think and behave in that company. You cannot measure this, it can be observed, but it takes time and a clear understanding of what it is you are observing.
Even now, some 21 years later, Toyota has had a profound impact on my and the work I do.
It’s all about making a difference, respecting people and supporting their growth and learning, increasing the value of what I do and continually experimenting to find a better way of doing things.
I remember his statement about “problems” and that we had to keep our eyes open, cos problems where everywhere, that we must learn to love and accept problems as part of business and that we learn more by solving problems than if we hide them. This is now a mantra that I use for problem solving and problem management
“There are no problems, only phenomena that needs to be understood and explained”
When you understand how a problem works, then you can define the root cause and implement a true countermeasure. These have been big lessons for me and my clients.
Even now, I believe Toyota will never be bettered as an organisation that is truly focused on continuous improvement, valuing people and enabling its people to learn and grow with the company.
Eiji Toyoda, a great man and one whose impact on the business world will live on through others for many decades to come. I look forward to reading an updated biography sometime soon.