Book Review: How Toyota Became #1


Review By Mike Gardner, TPM Blog

Name of the Book: How Toyota Became #1

Author: David Magee

Publication Date: 2007

Book description:

David Magee interviewed current and former Toyota executives in the United States and Japan in order to understand the Toyota Way straight from the people who live it every day. Toyota leaders such as Jim Press, Gary Convis, Mitsuo Kinoshita, and Koki Konishi spoke freely and honestly with Mr. Magee about the leadership philosophies that make Toyota work. The result is a nicely crafted synthesis of theory and practice. Chapter topics include such Toyota principles as kaizen; teaching employees to think; empowerment (pull the cord); understanding and serving the customer; and the power of paranoia.

Each chapter includes examples of how Toyota has implemented their principles and a direct comparison to companies such as Ford and General Motors. These comparisons illustrate the differences between the companies and the results each achieved. The author allows the facts to speak for themselves, but occasionally interjects some personal opinions into the comparisons.

How does it contribute to the lean knowledge base?

This would be a good introduction for anyone interested in lean manufacturing or Toyota. This is not an in-depth analysis of Toyota's management principles such as can be found in Jeffrey Liker's The Toyota Way. Mr. Magee is a journalist, and he writes in a straightforward conversational style. Much of the book is based on his interviews with people within Toyota so it reads like an informal discussion. There is not a lot of hard analysis here, but there is a lot to learn about the pillars of lean that focus on people. Regardless of the chapter topic, the narrative usually concludes with the fact that the people are what make Toyota successful. The respect for and development of people has been the central tenet of all aspects of the Toyota Production System for almost sixty years.

What are the highlights? What works?

I found the conversational style and emphasis on interviews worked well together to create an engaging and informative narrative. Reading about Toyota's philosophies and how they have been put into action directly from those responsible for them is much better than from an outsider's perspective. There is a nice synthesis between the interviews, the history of Toyota, and the principles of the lean enterprise. The constant and direct comparison between Toyota and other automobile companies lends an important perspective to the story.

What are the weaknesses? What's missing?

The biggest criticism I have of this book is the physical layout. I was taught that it was bad form to split words between two lines and it should only be done as a last resort. If a word had to be split, there were rules to be followed, such as splitting only words of three or more syllables and not splitting between the first and second syllables. This book was obviously typeset by a computer whose algorithm mandated and exactly straight right margin throughout. The result is that many words are split between lines that should not be. Often there are three or four lines in a row with split words. This can be very disconcerting to the reader. I had to make a conscious effort to ignore this and concentrate on the text.

For the most part Mr. Magee allows the facts to speak for themselves, but he occasionally allows himself to descend into a little hyperbolic cheerleading for Toyota at the expense of other car companies. It does not happen very often, however, and he remains very objective otherwise.

How can I get the most out of this book?

This is a good book to read while traveling—I read it while on planes and in airports last week. It is not a textbook on lean implementation, but rather an interesting narrative about the success of Toyota and the people who have made the company the premier automotive manufacturer in the world. It is a great book for those just beginning the lean journey and also would make a good gift for those friends and relatives we all have who do not understand “this lean thing” we spend our lives on.

The book can be purchased at

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. Hi Mark,

    thanks to your mentioning of the book a couple of weeks ago I purchased it via Amazon and got it just this week.

    I just have started it really yesterday and it directly grasps the reader’s curiousity on what is so special about Toyota and how Lean came to be what it is today.



  2. Mark – Why don’t you post a blog article about your top 10 greatest Lean/Six Sigma books? I realize you need to have dirt under your fingernails. If you haven’t experienced it, how do you know? But I for one would be interested in your recommendations!


  3. Regarding the comments about typography. The style that the computer followed – right justification – or lining up the words so the right hand margin remains in a straight line – does indeed slow down reading. Besides generating silly hyphenation -toolch-ests for example, it places big spaces between words in some lines and crams together words in others. The narrower the columns, the worse the problem.

    Tests of readability show that all these flaws slow down the eye, and the resulting cognitive interruptions make reading more difficult. The interruptions are waste generated only to please some book designer’s uneducated preference. The designer forgets that reading is all about absorbing knowledge and information recorded in words. It’s all about flow.

    People who have studied readability have determined that “ragged right” margins are much easier to read.

    Other common reading barriers – ill-chosen colors of type over background, unnecessary capitalization in titles and headlines, text written in all caps, and too much going on visually on a page. I’d submit that capitalizing words like kaizen, kanban, generic names of departments such as human resources, and even lean, interfere with understanding.


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