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Shoichiro Toyoda (1): Founding principles

The roots of Toyota Motor Corporation and the Toyota group of companies can be traced back to an invention by my grandfather, Sakichi Toyoda: an automatic power loom. Japan was a relatively poor country at the time, and Sakichi devoted his life to the development of weaving devices that brought the potential for greater prosperity. With the help of his son, Kiichiro, and his employees -- and after much trial and error -- he created an automatic loom called the Type G in the 1920s.   

Shoichiro Toyoda

     Sakichi sold the patent on the Type G to Platt Brothers & Co. of the U.K., then the world's largest textile machinery manufacturer, for 100,000 pounds. About 12 years ago, the loom was placed on permanent display at the Science Museum in London, which also houses James Watt's steam engine and other inventions that drove the Industrial Revolution.

     When I visited the museum, a crowd gathered around the loom as it was switched on and clattered to life. Watching the machine, it occurred to me that my grandfather and father achieved exactly what they had set out to do -- contribute to society. And it moved me to think that those contributions have been recognized around the world.

     After Sakichi died in 1930, his immediate subordinates compiled a set of instructions called the Five Main Principles of Toyoda. This charter calls on employees to, among other things, devote themselves to their work so as to contribute to the company and the greater good. Employees are also urged to be creative and stay ahead of the times. The list was unveiled on the fifth anniversary of Sakichi's death. 

     By late 1933, Toyoda Automatic Loom Works had decided to launch an automotive business, and preparations were well underway. Sakichi's principles became part of the management philosophy of the auto business. In fact, they are the inspiration behind today's Guiding Principles at Toyota, which essentially call on all group employees to stay true to the spirit in which the company was founded, and to unite to meet the company's business goals.

     I myself, during more than half a century of involvement in Toyota's management, referred to Sakichi's principles as a guide for making difficult decisions.

     When I became president of Toyota, I made it a top priority to contribute to society through manufacturing, in line with the Principles. I attached great importance to creativity, courage and a willingness to tackle daunting challenges. You cannot make any progress if you are afraid of making mistakes. For a manufacturer, the most important thing is to set high standards and keep striving to meet them. 

Thinking ahead

More than 100 years have passed since the automobile was invented, yet global auto demand continues to grow. I am very lucky to be involved in such an industry.

     Nevertheless, history shows that most businesses begin to decline after 30 years of success. There is no guarantee that Toyota will remain a leading automaker, in Japan or worldwide, for many years to come.

     This is why I hope Toyota's current leaders will continue to innovate. This means advancing the manufacturing process itself, as well as contemplating the future of transportation in our globalized world.

     I always plan for the future. Although I am 89 and have been retired from active management for some time, this attitude has not changed. This brings me to my reasons for penning my autobiography.

     I was asked to contribute to the "My Personal History" series many times in the past. I always declined out of deference to Gaishi Hiraiwa, who preceded me as chairman of the Japan Federation of Economic Organizations (Keidanren), and who had not yet contributed to the series.

     Still, four of my seniors at Toyota -- Taizo Ishida, Shotaro Kamiya, Seishi Kato and Eiji Toyoda -- have contributed. To be precise, Eiji compiled half of his entry and then took a break, intending to complete it later. Sadly, he died last year. 

     I decided to put my own story down here on paper, to make it easier for the people who come after me to feel they can do the same.

Shoichiro Toyoda is honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation. In a series of 29 columns originally published in The Nikkei, he recounts the pioneering automaker's origins and his years at the helm.

The "My Personal History" ("Watashi no Rirekisho") series of autobiographies first appeared in The Nikkei in 1956. Since then, a wide variety of world-changing individuals have written or dictated their life stories for publication. The list includes Margaret Thatcher, Suharto, Lee Kuan Yew, Mahathir bin Mohamad, George W. Bush, Alan Greenspan, Jack Welch, Tom Watson and Seiji Ozawa.

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