“The automaker last month created a single group, staffed with 200 employees, to manage the Toyota Production System, centralizing a function that was spread out through the organization. Their task is to evaluate how core concepts like kaizen, or continuous improvement, can be applied to new businesses that include car sharing and consumer robots. The person in charge is 59-year-old Shigeki Tomoyama, a career Toyota executive who wields a tablet computer during events, making him look more like a Silicon Valley software engineer than a car guy. […] Akio Toyoda says the automaker his grandfather founded eight decades ago needs to move faster to keep up with the likes of Google and Uber Technologies Inc. […] In the last two years, Toyota has opened a Silicon Valley research center”
Source: Bloomberg Technology
Michel Baudin‘s comments: The article includes a group photo of the original Gazoo group from 1997 that includes both Tomoyama and current Toyota CEO Akio Toyoda:
Gazoo is an internet portal created by Toyota that is in sharp contrast with the brochureware websites of other automakers, featuring, among other things, articles about classic cars, used cars, road trips in Japan, and entertainment devices for kids during drives. This article is the first reference to Gazoo that I have seen in the American press. It’s unfortunate because Gazoo has been online since 2000 and is an approach to car marketing that deserves attention.
In this blog, however, it has been discussed in the following two posts:
- Sales, Marketing, and Manufacturing Improvement (2016)
- “Going to the Gemba” and “Going to the Customer” | Philip Marris (2015)
Gazoo’s existence is proof that, far from being anti-IT, Toyota is savvier in this area than its competitors. However, when the article points out that Akio Toyoda is running a company started by his grandfather, it draws attention to an archaic feature of not just Toyota but the car industry as a whole that is absent in Silicon Valley: it is a family business.
Not only is Toyota run today by a member of the founder’s family but Ferdinand Porsche’s feuding descendants still control VW and Porsche. Italy’s Fiat is run by a member of the Agnelli family; in the US, the Ford family controls the Ford company; in France, the Peugeot family is still influential at PSA. In all, at least 5 of the top 10 car manufacturers in the world are family businesses, which means that an employee’s last name opens or closes certain opportunities. Not all car companies are like that. GM, for example, has never been a family business, and Soichiro Honda discouraged his children from joining his company, “so that young engineers don’t feel any limitations.”
Among the leaders of Silicon Valley, it is difficult to identify any that could be described as family businesses. Most are not old enough for the founders to have had multiple generations of descendants. HP is the exception. Back in 2001, Walter Hewlett, son of a co-founder, sat on its board and was in the news for opposing the acquisition of Compaq by then-CEO Carly Fiorina. Fiorina won and the acquisition went through. 17 years later, the company has been split into HP Enterprise and HP, Inc., neither one of which has any Hewlett or Packard on its board of directors.
Even though its practices do not always live up to it, Silicon Valley has a meritocratic ethos. Your talents and your achievements are supposed to determine your career. In their practices, few Silicon Valley companies are exempt from ageism, sexism, communautarism, and cliquishness. They are guilty of many sins, but hereditary transmission of management positions is not one of them.