Stodgy, prosperous Toyota has never had anybody in charge like Hiroshi Okuda, its new president. Okuda, 63, holds a black belt in judo and is something of an iconoclast. Interviewed in New York City a week before his appointment--which happened to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the nuclear annihilation of Hiroshima--Okuda said the atomic bombings saved Japan from being destroyed by a U.S. invasion.
That kind of stark response is typical of this tall, dark-haired man who becomes the first non-family member in more than a decade to run the world's third-largest automaker (1994 sales: $100 billion). He is blunt in discussing Toyota's weaknesses, particularly its poor showing in the Japanese market where its lackluster sedans are losing ground to multipurpose vehicles like the Mitsubishi Montero and Honda Odyssey. And he is not above sharing a little gossip. "Have you heard that Nissan is declaring bankruptcy?" he asked one astonished American reporter. (The answer was no.)
Before Okuda was promoted, Toyota seemed to be faltering under the collective leadership installed after then-president Tatsuro Toyoda fell ill in February. Its sales in Japan are sluggish, and the new Corolla model is selling slowly. But "faltering" is a relative term. Toyota has just launched an ambitious plan to boost global production 33% by the end of the decade. In the U.S., Toyota will introduce the sporty RAV4 in early 1996 and will soon announce the location of a fourth North American plant.
The biggest uncertainty in Toyota's future is the value of the yen. Though it has weakened in recent days to 93 yen to the dollar, Okuda, ever the pragmatist, says, "We are assuming 80 yen to the dollar at around the year 2000. I think it is pretty much reflecting the real world." That kind of bracing candor should blow like a fresh wind through Toyota.
Taylor, Alex, III. "A judo expert may give Toyota a kick." Fortune 4 Sept. 1995: 21. Academic OneFile. Web. 30 Oct. 2009.
United States Judo Association - USJA
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