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Toyota's Akio Toyoda flies solo at media event, in change of style

Thu, 10 Mar 2011

It was as much a change for Akio Toyoda as it was for Toyota Motor Corp.

In unveiling the company's new mid-term business plan this week, the media-shy president flew solo at a news conference without the usual safety net of being flanked by his top brass.

The move was a departure for Toyoda, who -- in his two years as president -- has tended to divert technical or detailed questions to a panel of executives sharing stage with him.

The kind of buffer was especially apparent when Toyoda appeared before Congress last year to testify about the company's recall problems. Toyota's North America chief Yoshimi Inaba sat beside him and was quick to intercept sticky questions for his boss.

Toyoda, who was largely shielded from media access as he climbed the ranks at the company founded by his grandfather, often appears uncomfortable, if not pained, to perform before the media. But facing hundreds of reporters at Wednesday's press conference, that all changed.

After presenting the plan, called Toyota Global Vision, Toyoda sat -- looking almost lonely -- at a tiny table to single-handedly field questions without turning to lieutenants. Glaring spotlights and the immensity of the conference hall only underscored its nature as a one-man show.

Toyoda's new blueprint aims to double operating profit by 2015, achieve sustainable profit margins of 5 percent, expand sales in emerging markets and redouble the company's focus on green cars. He also slashed the number of board members for more nimble decision making.

Call it kaizen--Toyota's term for constant improvement--both for the carmaker and its CEO.

Last year, in the thick of the recall crisis, Toyoda acknowledged that he needed to show more leadership in stepping forward as the company's public face.

He stressed that fact again in this week's management shuffle by putting public affairs directly under his command, instead of under an executive vice president proxy as done today.

"In the past year or so, I have the keen awareness that I am the person 100 percent responsible for whatever Toyota does," the president said. "So through one voice, coming from myself, I would like to take full accountability."

By Hans Greimel- Automotive News