In Toyota’s Guiding Principles, last revised in 1997, Michael Ballé sees more than “goal-oriented efficiency.” While I would not use a phrase like “goal-oriented efficiency,” the principles do not strike me as anything beyond strategic guidelines to ensure the long-term, worldwide viability of the company. If they serve this purpose, great, but a car manufacturer is the wrong place to look for philosophical enlightenment.
Let’s consider the guiding principles one by one:
- Honor the language and spirit of the law of every nation and undertake open and fair business activities to be a good corporate citizen of the world.
Comments: The laws of many nations enshrine ethnic and gender discrimination, as well as religious bigotry. Honoring the spirit of these laws may be a condition for doing business in these countries, but may disqualify a company as “a good corporate citizen of the world.”
- Respect the culture and customs of every nation and contribute to economic and social development through corporate activities in their respective communities.
Comments: Again, corporate self-interest may dictate showing respect for the “culture and customs of every nation,” not all of which are respectable.
- Dedicate our business to providing clean and safe products and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through all of our activities.
Comments: Putting 10 million new cars and trucks on the world’s roads every year is a livelihood, but can it enhance the quality of life everywhere? Cars are a great means of transportation on an isolated farm, but in cities, they gridlock streets, pollute the air, and cause accidents. The best a car company can aim for is for its products to do less damage than its competitors’.
- Create and develop advanced technologies and provide outstanding products and services that fulfill the needs of customers worldwide.
Comments: This is needed for long-term survival, whatever you are selling
- Foster a corporate culture that enhances both individual creativity and the value of teamwork, while honoring mutual trust and respect between labor and management.
Comments: This is enlightened self-interest. It is what a company has to do to last, and it’s not industry-specific.
- Pursue growth through harmony with the global community via innovative management.
Comments: “Harmony” here is most likely used as a translation of the Japanese Wa (和), and, in this context, could be taken to mean putting the interests of the “global community” ahead of the company’s, as a strategy to grow it. In other words, the company’s best interest is to subordinate its best interest to that of the “global community,” whatever that may be.
- Work with business partners in research and manufacture to achieve stable, long-term growth and mutual benefits, while keeping ourselves open to new partnerships.
Comments: Playing well with others in each market is not only good business, but also key to defusing nationalism and making Toyota a “Beloved Company,” as Fujio Cho directed in the US in 1997.