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The challenger mindset of Fujio Cho. (Tooling Around).

Fujio Cho is a man who doesn't rest on his past success. And he has had plenty of it.

Most recently, the Automotive Hall of Fame named Cho as its 2001 Industry Leader, noting that the president of Toyota Motor Corp. "not only shapes corporate policy for Toyota but is a highly regarded spokesman for the automobile industry and for manufacturing in general."

For his part, Cho keeps his eye on the road ahead. Along the way he quotes Taiichi Ohno, father of the kanban system and the acknowledged creator of the celebrated Toyota Production System.

"'Always think about what your next step will be. Continuously improving yourself is the mark of a true professional,"' Cho says on the corporate web site. "I was a young man when I heard these words of wisdom, and they have stayed with me ever since. The 21st century is still in its infancy, but there have already been significant changes in customer needs. Can Toyota build on the improvements of the last century? Can we be, in other words, far more than we have been? Our answers to these queries must be yes."

Cho is certain that Toyota's winning in the global market demands meeting certain challenges. The first challenge is fully harnessing information technology (IT).

In Toyota's case, IT is really becoming a great ally. "Digital engineering," Cho says, "is transforming our whole approach to manufacturing, helping us to put new models into production almost simultaneously around the world. Our computers systems now design the production processes for new models while products are still in development."

With equal vigor, Toyota is meeting the challenge of cost-competitiveness. More than just a synonym for lowering production costs, cost-competitiveness means applying effective manufacturing strategies, Cho says. Not least among those is building stronger relationships with affiliated parts manufacturers. As Cho noted in a speech two years ago, "Stronger ties with strategic affiliates will facilitate development of crucial technologies for next-generation automotive systems. For example, we are working with other members of the Toyota Group to coordinate the development of fuel-cell technology."

Not surprisingly, further development of Toyota's already-impressive global reach is another challenge Cho is overseeing. This spring, look for transmission production in Poland. In the fall, watch passenger car production begin in China.

"Coming to our environmental policy, Toyota has always considered this a vital management issue and has made concerted efforts toward the conservation of the environment," Cho says.

(Let me add that this philosophy extends throughout Toyota's larger corporate family. While attending the Toyoda Technical Fair in Kariya, Japan, last fall, execs from Toyoda Machine Tool Works Ltd. stressed their commitment to "human and global friendliness" through sensible machine design and thoughtful machining strategies such as semidry cutting.)

Fujio Cho has also issued a capstone challenge to his corporation. It's the kind of stretch goal that typically distinguishes the great leader from the merely good ones.

"Even if automobile manufacturers can meet all the challenges we have mentioned so far--IT, cost-competitiveness, global reach and meeting environmental requirements--at the end of the day their products have to be something people can really get excited about," he says. "Our strategy here is to design and sell automobiles that really meet customer needs."

Cho, a former captain of Tokyo University's kendo (fencing) club, knows that success demands more than talk. Accordingly, he himself is heading the new Toyota Institute, which is training the corporation's executives and middle management.

"I believe that making things is about educating people, and that Toyota's competitiveness lies in its development of human resources," he says. "We must boost our employees' individuality and creativity to the highest possible level, arming them to succeed in the competitive global market. Most importantly, we must ensure that they want to exercise their talents at Toyota, not at our competitors."

As I noted, Fujio Cho keeps his eyes on the road ahead. Starting this month, that will be literally true. Toyota takes on a sponsorship in Formula 1 car racing as of this month.

"In our overall corporate activity, as in our Formula 1 participation," he says, "we intend to move forward aggressively, spurred by our challenger mindset."

Joseph F. McKenna, Editor-in-Chief
COPYRIGHT 2002 Nelson Publishing
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2002 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Fujio Cho is president of Toyota Motor Corp.
Publication:Tooling & Production
Geographic Code:9JAPA
Date:Apr 1, 2002
Words:697
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