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Eiji Toyoda – The Bard Of The Assembly Line


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Eiji Toyoda died,earlier this week, at the age of 100, almost 30 years after retiring from active management of Toyota Motors.

Like Alfred Sloan and Henry Ford before him, Toyoda was an engineer whose vision dominated the company in its formative years and beyond. He transformed Toyota into a global powerhouse with management and manufacturing processes that transcended the auto industry.

Where would we be without kanban, kaizen, muda, and keiretsu, as well as acronyms like JIT (just in time), TQC (total quality control), ZD (zero defects), and TPS (Toyota Production System)?

Although Taiichi Ohno is known as the father of the Toyota Production System, Toyoda probably deserves more credit for its development. He encouraged his team to learn from W Edwards Deming, to study the Ford production system, and to use data to refine manufacturing processes.

Toyoda was known as a good listener and someone who wanted to hear the suggestions and opinions of the very capable team he built around him.

He understood that international success would come with affordable and durable cars, and under his direction, Toyota developed the Corolla, a name Toyoda personally selected, and the Camry.Later he pushed Toyota into the luxury-car sector.

At Toyoda’s insistence, the company took its first, hesitant steps to produce cars outside Japan. Toyota didn’t know if its production system could be replicated overseas, and it was cautious to commit, even after Honda Motors and Nissan were building cars in the US Toyoda’s answer was a joint venture with General Motors, a decision that was not enthusiastically embraced within Toyota, but once his mind was made up, there was no changing it. Toyoda challenged his management team to forge the agreement with GM and to accept GM’s closed Fremont, California, assembly plant. Fremont was notorious for inferior quality and poor labour relations, which Toyoda saw as an opportunity. If they could succeed there, they could succeed on their own anywhere, he told executives.

Even without automation, Toyota was able to build cars in fewer person-hours than GM, and with quality comparable to Japan. In reaching decisions, the only things that mattered to Toyoda were genba—production site or factory—and genbutsu—products. He took great pleasure in visiting Toyota assembly plants and those of the competition. He could stand in the middle of a plant and listen; by the sound alone, he could judge how well it was operating.

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About Keerthika Singaravel
Engineer,Investor,Businessperson

2 Responses to Eiji Toyoda – The Bard Of The Assembly Line

  1. Alex Jones says:

    This was one of the great men who helped Japan rebuild into a world industrial power from the broken remains of its war-time experience.

    • Truly

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