Toyota Keeps its Eyes on the Customer


by Dan Markovitz

In a refreshing change of pace for the auto industry, Akio Toyoda, who was just named as the new president of Toyota, did not ask for government loans. Nor, in his first public statements, did he express satisfaction with his current level of pay. Or complain about legacy costs. Or competition. Or tax levels.

Instead, he “stressed he would value the needs of customers and stay close to the company's rank and file” (CBS News). If you prefer the WSJ's version (subscription required), Toyoda “promised to lead Toyota's comeback by putting customers first.”

Regardless of how you translate his statement, it's instructive that the president's first comments emphasized the customer — very much in keeping with lean philosophy. And while it's true that Toyota can better afford to talk this way compared to the Detroit Three, it's equally true that it's this customer focus that has gotten the company to this position.

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Dan Markovitz is president of Markovitz Consulting, a firm that radically improves operational speed and efficiency by applying lean concepts to knowledge work. He is a faculty member at the Lean Enterprise Institute and teaches at the Stanford University Continuing Studies Program. He also lectures on A3 thinking at the Ohio State University’s Fisher School of Business. Dan is a frequent speaker and presenter at conferences, and has consulted to organizations as diverse as Camelbak, Clif Bar, Abbott Vascular, WL Gore & Associates, Intel, the City of Menlo Park, and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center. His book, A Factory of One, was honored with a Shingo Research Award in 2013. Dan has also published articles in the Harvard Business Review blog, Quality Progress, Industry Week magazine, Reliable Plant magazine, and Management Services Journal, among other magazines. All of these articles are available for download on the Resources page. Earlier in his career, he held management positions in product marketing at Sierra Designs, Adidas, CNET and Asics Tiger, where he worked in sales, product marketing, and product development. He also has experience as an entrepreneur, having founded his own skateboarding footwear company. Dan lived in Japan for four years and is fluent in Japanese. He holds a BA from Wesleyan University and an MBA from the Stanford University Graduate School of Business.

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