The Dispersion of Toyota Talent


One of the most fascinating trends out of there is the spread of Toyota folks into other old-line automakers or parts suppliers — Gary Convis, Jim Press, and Jim Farley, to name three. What impact can they have outside of Toyota? It remains to be seen and it's a story worth following. How much impact can one man have on the culture of an entire organization, even if they're at the top?

The big news this week was the hiring of retired Toyota executive Gary Convis as CEO at Dana, a parts maker and auto supplier. Convis is one of my favorite role models and examples of Lean leadership. Even though Dana has had some success with Lean practices (including some Shingo Prizes), it didn't save the company from bankruptcy.

Dana Puts Convis at the Wheel –

From the WSJ article:

Toledo automobile-components supplier Dana Corp. will announce Thursday the hiring of longtime Toyota Motor Corp. manufacturing whiz Gary Convis as its new chief executive.

I'd argue that “manufacturing whiz” only scratches the surface of his leadership talent. When you see quotes from Convis like this (from previous articles):

“You respect people, you listen to them, you work together. You don't blame them. Maybe the process was not set up well, so it was easy to make a mistake.”

That type of mindset and leadership should translate well to an entire company. Will Convis be able to stem the tide of traditional blaming and strict top-down leadership? Will Convis be able to spread the “respect for people” philosophy throughout Dana? Will he have the runway to be able to do that? Or will Wall Street and the investors want short-term focus? Will Convis be able to live the Toyota Way? Will he even try, given this is Dana?

Back to the WSJ article, it gives the required analyst quote, for whatever dubious value they add to the conversation:

Lehman Brothers automotive analyst Brian Johnson said the paring of Mr. Convis with Mr. Devine should give the company a management team that is capable of strengthening relations with customers and Wall Street.

He said Mr. Convis's immediate challenge is “delivering the performance improvement” and driving the company “to a leaner manufacturing philosophy.”

Well, duh, of course Convis is supposed to help improve performance. You might think, from his choice of words, that this analyst doesn't understand the Lean approach. “Leaner?” Lean isn't an end point, it's a philosophy and a business system. What does “leaner” mean? That Dana will have MORE of a long-term focus than Toyota? What the heck does that mean? It would be more accurate to say something like “driving the company to more fully implement the lean manufacturing methods and philosophies.” Or how else would you put it?

Either way, I hope Convis is wildly successful at Dana. That would be a nice data point to prove that the Toyota Production System works well in other companies.

A Star a Toyota, a Believer at Ford – NY Times

The second related story is about Jim Farley and his move from Toyota to Ford. It's a fascinating profile – we learn, among other things, that he is a cousin of the departed comedian Chris Farley (there is a passing resemblance).

More importantly, Farley shares his passion for Ford and his drive to help save the company.

Now Farley isn't leading change from the top, but he can influence the culture. Hopefully, he can bring the customer obsession from Toyota:

Mr. Farley rode the fast track at Toyota. He moved to Europe in 1995 and helped introduce versions of the Yaris minicar and the Corolla compact. He also became obsessed with what cars people drove and why.

“I used to walk parking lots all the time, all over Europe,” he said. “When I'm in a new situation, my formula is to really find the truth in things, to observe and get close to the truth.”

The truth, as he saw it at Toyota, was all about the customer — unlike at some other automakers that let executives dictate what cars to build.

“One of the many things that Toyota does really, really well is that it can put the voice of the customer right there at the table in front of the chairman of the company, in a way that even he can't change it,” he said.

Farley learned to go to the “gemba,” to actually observe and talk with customers. This is a long-standing pattern in Toyota (including the stories of Japanese employees coming to the U.S. to drive minivans across the continent to understand customer needs here).

It also sounds like he will open up channels of communication:

“At Ford, it was like the boss was always right,” he said. “But it is fascinating how quickly the people I work with were able to shift to where they had their own opinions and expressed them.”

Tie that back to the Convis quote. Convis is a servant leader. He listens to his employees. That's the magic. I hope that's what they can both help bring to Dana and Ford. If it can work there, it can work anywhere.

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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.


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