New order at the top of Toyota

First foreigner to sit on board since 2007 as world leader seeks to meet the challenges from America and Europe head-on

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 07 March, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 08 May, 2015, 4:41pm

Toyota Motor president Akio Toyoda overhauled his top management for the second consecutive year, strengthening his control over the world's largest carmaker to vie with General Motors and Volkswagen.

Three of Toyoda's seven executive vice-presidents would step down, being replaced by just two people, the Japanese carmaker said in a statement released yesterday.

Three outsiders would be added to the board, including former GM group vice-president Mark Hogan, the first foreigner to take up a seat on Toyota's board since 2007.

The changes mean Toyoda will have replaced all but one of his top lieutenants within a span of two years as he grooms the next generation of leaders at Japan's largest manufacturer, founded by his grandfather in 1937.

While the yen's 7 per cent decline this year is boosting earnings, the company faces a growing challenge from American and European carmakers in markets ranging from China to the United States.

"It's been gradual, steady process and this is just part of the change that's in his mind," said Edwin Merner, the president of Atlantis Investment Research. "It's good for Toyota."

Shares in Toyota rose 2 per cent to close at 4,830 yen (HK$401.60) before the announcement.

The stock has gained 21 per cent this year, helped by the decline in the yen, which is boosting the value of earnings from overseas.

Hogan, the president of Dewey Investments and formerly president of Magna International, will be joined by Ikuo Uno, an executive adviser at Nippon Life Insurance, and Haruhiko Kato, the president of the Japan Securities Depository Centre, as outsiders entering Toyota's board.

"The appointment of outside board members shows Toyota has opened up more and become fully global," chairman Fujio Cho said.

Cho, serving in a largely ceremonial role, will become an honorary chairman and be succeeded by vice-chairman Takeshi Uchiyamada.

Uchiyamada led Toyota's development of the Prius, the world's best-selling petrol-electric car, before he became executive vice-president in 2005. He then became the vice-chairman of Toyota's board in June last year.

He graduated from Nagoya University in 1969 with a degree in applied physics and joined Toyota the same year, according to the company's website.

Among the six executives promoted this year to senior managing officer - one level below executive vice-president in Toyota's hierarchy - is Jim Lentz, who will oversee North American operations as the region's chief executive.

Lentz was previously the US sales chief.

"These changes will help us to achieve sustainable growth and realise our global vision by giving more responsibility to each region, including our North and South American operations," Toyoda said.

Atsushi Niimi, who managed production and dealt with supply-chain disruptions after the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, is among the three outgoing executive vice-presidents.

The other two are Shinichi Sasaki, who was in charge of quality control when Toyota recalled millions of vehicles from 2009, and Yukitoshi Funo, who looked after Toyota's Asian business outside Japan.

Yasumori Ihara, a senior managing officer in charge of logistics and purchasing, and Seiichi Sudo, who headed Toyota Motor Kyushu, would be promoted to executive vice-presidents, the company said.

Toyota also said it was reorganising its automotive business into four units to speed up the decision-making process and clarify its operations.

One division will focus on Lexus and another will cover North America, Europe and Japan.

The third will manage operations in the rest of the word, while the fourth unit will be responsible for components such as engines and transmission parts.