It may be hard to remember these days, with the recall of millions of vehicles and internal memos boasting of saving $100 million in one of those recalls becoming part of the Congressional record, but Toyota reached the summit of the car world just three years ago.
In How Toyota Became #1, David Magee traces the company’s roots as a loom company and the values and practices that propelled the fledgling car company to its lofty position before its recent stunning fall from dizzying heights.
Magee claims that this work is not corporate hagiography, but his assertions are not very convincing.
The company’s commitment to long-term solutions, the humility of its leaders and its willingness to seek out, take responsibility for and solve problems are all identified and extolled in this remarkably positive work.
Magee also explains that Toyota has learned to interact respectfully with the cultures in which it operates. In France, for example, it has learned to work within the confines of workers’ expectations of a 35-hour work week, while in Kentucky and other American cities it has given significant sums to area schools.
Toyota’s pursuit of kaizen, or continuous improvement, and the principles that underpin the “Toyota Way” get their share of attention, too. Magee takes the reader through the company’s endless efforts to eliminate muda, or waste, to make decisions through a slow consensus process, then act rapidly once the decision has been made, and its underpinning philosophy of seeking long-term quality rather than short-term gain.
Magee specifically notes that even though the company is heavily influenced by being based in Japan, the values it purports to espouse are universal ones.
In short, the book is a primer on how Toyota has said it operates and the ideas that have propelled it to being the world’s largest company and achieving nearly six consecutive decades of annual profits.
All of this, of course, only accentuates how spectacular the company’s fall has been. In a prescient section about one-third of the way into the book, Magee concedes that there have been issues with recalls in the past, but maintains that the company’s forthright manner in dealing with them only affirms the leaders’ commitment to their values.
This has been far less true recently.
It remains to be seen how much of Toyota’s rapidly deflating reputation it will be able to salvage. What does appear clear, however, is that company leaders’ concerns being greater than ever as Toyota hit the top of the auto world were warranted, even if the source of their downfall has come from within, rather than without its once hallowed walls.
That will be the source for an ever more interesting book.