This man is the less obvious (but possibly most important) side of Toyota’s diversity drive

Mitsuru Kawai, no college

Mitsuru Kawai, no college

The end of the Japanese fiscal year is nearing, and Toyota watchers would not be surprised by a few high level management changes at this time of the year. Perplexing more than a few, Toyota announced the mother of all management changes today. On eleven pages, Toyota described the shockwaves of a major management shakeup. Apart from the obvious, the revirement most likely is the precursor of a large restructuring, with Toyota’s TNGA at the core, and very likely, some of it will be announced at or before the annual results conference in May. Let’s look at the obvious and not so obvious.

Toyota’s overdue attempts at more diversity have gotten all the headlines. From The New York Times to the Financial Times, the media celebrates the fact that Toyota admitted into its upper ranks a foreigner (Didier Leroy), a female foreigner (Julie Hamp), and an Africa-American foreigner (Christopher Reynolds). The NYT remarks that the changes have yet to reach a “demographic tipping point.” For that, one needs to travel next town to Yokohama, where the Nissan HQ can easily be mistaken for the United Nations.

Now for the less obvious changes. Toyota opened its C-Suite to a common laborer. Mitsuru Kawai, a man who started 50 years ago at Toyota, fresh out of High School, and not out of college, a man who was exposed to the hot and cold of a forging plant without window panes, has been elected Senior Managing Officer. Kawai is famous at Toyota for extolling the virtues of manual skills, and for saying that humans need to be better than robots, because after all, who would the robot learn from?

Further in the realm of the less obvious, please scan the eleven pages for mentions of “TNGA,” and you will find a few, including a whole “TNGA Planning Division.” Toyota’s New Global Architecture is getting so big and all-encompassing, it keeps a whole division busy, and the division appears to grow. Kawai and the many mentions of TNGA indicate that something big is afoot at Toyota, and robots won’t like it.

Finally in the less obvious dept., the times when Toyota group companies were used as Toyota’s Siberia, and when managers sent there would never come back, are over. In the new world of Toyota, managing a group company is a career step, and no longer a demotion. This points to a tighter integration of Toyota group companies.