TMNA CEO Jim Lentz made two rather momentous announcements in December: 1) effective March 31, he planned to retire and close the book on a remarkable 38-year career with Toyota; and 2) effective April 1, he named COO Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa to take his place atop the org chart.
Ogawa was the logical choice to succeed Lentz given his long tenure with Toyota and his wide-ranging work experience in Japan, China and North America
. But there’s far more to a person than their resume, as impressive though Ogawa’s might be.
So, in the run up to the transition, Driver’s Seat
had the opportunity to sit down with the new boss to learn more about his background, his ideas on leadership and his vision for Toyota’s future in an automotive industry that’s in the midst of change. Wanna know more about our new boss? Read below, and watch the video above.
Driver’s Seat: So back in December, when Jim Lentz said you would replace him as CEO, you said you were in a bit of a state of shock. Are you beginning to adjust to the idea of taking the lead at TMNA?
Yes. No more feelings of shock now. But I do know this will be a very big challenge. It is a great honor for me to become CEO of a company made up of thousands of team members. But I know that I don’t have to do this all on my own. I have a very strong leadership team around me. And I look forward to working with all team members.
In what ways, specifically, can we help you?
Most importantly, through your ideas. Whether it's government affairs or sales or manufacturing — every function — I look forward to working with everyone. The door to my office will always be open. So please come and share your ideas.
You come to this role with a tremendous amount of experience and knowledge. Let’s go back to the beginning. When did you start your career with Toyota?
That was in 1984. I joined the purchasing department. And then about 12 years later I transferred to NUMMI.
That’s New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., in Northern California, right?
Yes, in Fremont. It was a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors. I spent five years there.
So, you were right there at the beginning of Toyota manufacturing vehicles in North America. Could you have imagined back then that Toyota would one day have 15 plants on this continent — including the new joint venture with Mazda in Alabama — making Toyota and Lexus vehicles? How did we get from there to here?
That’s a good question. We have come a very long way. We’ve done it by taking small steps, day by day. And by always thinking about our customers and thinking about the products they need and want. When I started at NUMMI, the focus was on just making Corolla. Then we expanded to Tacoma. And then we expanded even more in Kentucky and beyond. To be honest, when I started at NUMMI in 1996, I couldn’t imagine it growing to this size and scope. Our team members deserve so much of the credit for all we have accomplished.
After your stint at NUMMI, you returned to Japan, right?
The Boss and the Boss' Boss -- Nothing to see here. Just Ted Ogawa and Akio Toyoda after taking a spin.
Yes, my next job was in the Overseas Planning Division. It was more of a sales function. Then in 2008 I returned to California, at Toyota Motor Sales, and worked in the Product Planning division and the Lexus Division. That was an important experience. Compared with Japan, the American team members were very advanced at sales and very aggressive. They knew how to sell very efficiently. I learned a lot during that time.
You’ve also spent quite a bit of time in China. Tell us about that.
That was very exciting. China is a great country. But the political system is very different from my experience. I would need a year to talk with you about just that!
Maybe not a year, but next time we’ll schedule three hours, just for a China discussion.
Yes, that would be good. It’s a very important market for Toyota.
Let’s shift gears a bit, from your past to Toyota’s future. What do you think will be our biggest challenge going forward?
Another good question. I know everyone is very interested in what’s going to happen in the future. But when Akio (Toyoda) addressed CES in Las Vegas in January, he said no one has a crystal ball. No one really knows what will happen. So, instead, we have to plan for every possibility. That requires investment. For that, we need partners. And we need to make this operation as strong as it can be. If our core business is profitable, then we will have the resources we need to invest in the future. So, we have the challenge of today and the challenge of tomorrow.
Jim Lentz was the first American to be CEO of TMNA. Your roots are in Japan and TMC. Should team members prepare for a change in the way the company is run?
Not at all. I have no intention of making big changes. Like Jim, I aim to encourage all of us to work together in collaboration. And good communication is the key. My nationality shouldn’t have any impact on that.
You’ve held leadership posts in China, Japan, and the United States. Do you have to be a different kind of leader in each place, or is leadership just kind of a universal thing?
Hitting the Links -- Ogawa (left) is an avid golfer who counts playing Pebble Beach as a highlight of his life in the sport. Here he is making the most of a Lexus event.
I think leadership is a universal language. It’s the same everywhere. Open, frank communication. Good teamwork. That’s my style. I want to feel the same temperature that team members are feeling. And the key to that is communication.
Well, I have to say your English is very good.
I don’t know about that. It’s something I’m working on. I’m taking English lessons. I have three books right now: one on vocabulary, one on the American accent and one on conversation. English, of course, is the global language. It is a second language for many people. Chinese was much more difficult for me to learn.
How long have you lived in Texas?
Three years. It’s very nice. Everything is very big and open. In the summer, it’s a little bit hotter here than in California. And in the winter it’s a little colder. But that’s OK.
Mr. Ogawa, thank you for your time. We're excited to have you as our new CEO!
By Dan Nied