Eiji Toyoda, Credited with Developing TPS and Expanding Toyota into North America, Passes Away at 100


IMG_1532 - Version 2Eiji Toyoda, a key figure in the growth and expansion of Toyota and the Toyota Production System practices has passed away this week, just past his 100th birthday.

His death has received fairly prominent coverage in the business press, including:

NY Times: Eiji Toyoda, Promoter of the Toyota Way and Engineer of Its Growth, Dies at 100

Bloomberg:  Eiji Toyoda, Creator of Toyota Export Giant, Dies at 100

WSJ:  Eiji Toyoda, Driver of Global Expansion, Dies at 100

Forbes:  How Eiji Toyoda Created The Modern Version Of Toyota

The NY Times article highlights his role in both the creation of the famed NUMMI joint venture with GM and what's now called “lean manufacturing” (a term that is now just about 25 years old and I'll be writing about that soon).

Describing his early days in the relatively new Toyota auto business:

Assigned to a division devoted to resolving quality problems, Mr. Toyoda is said to have developed an uncanny ability to spot waste.

“Problems are rolling all around in front of your eyes,” Mr. Toyoda said of those days in “Inside the Mind of Toyota.” “Whether you pick them up and treat them as problems is a matter of habit. If you have the habit, then you can do whatever you have a mind to.”

Eiji helped shape the “kaizen culture” that we respect and emulate today:

Even as he aggressively expanded production at Toyota, Mr. Toyoda applied a manufacturing culture based on concepts like “kaizen,” a commitment to continuous improvements suggested by the workers themselves, and just-in-time production, a tireless effort to eliminate waste.  Those ideas became a core part of what came to be called the Toyota Production System and a corporate ethos known as the Toyota Way

“One of the features of the Japanese workers is that they use their brains as well as their hands,” he said in an interview with the author Masaaki Imai for the 1986 book “Kaizen.” “Our workers provide 1.5 million suggestions a year, and 95 percent of them are put to practical use. There is an almost tangible concern for improvement in the air at Toyota.”

The automotive industry and the Lean community has lost a great leader. We all owe a lot to his work, leadership, and risk taking. As the New York Times noted, his work has led to improvements in areas as diverse as a New York food bank.

The UK's Telegraph newspaper mentions TPS and the role of Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Taiichi Ohno:

With a veteran Toyoda loom engineer, Taiichi Ohno, Eiji set out to perfect the “Toyota Way”. This was a combination of just-in-time stock control through a short supply chain and the kaizen practice (in fact the idea of an American statistician called Deming, but adopted and developed in Japan) of involving the whole workforce in “continuous improvement”.

Also see Bill Waddell's post:  Eiji Toyoda – the Master Innovator  and Jon Miller's post:  The Man Who Saved Kaizen. Also see Karen Martin's post:  Eiji Toyoda: A Consummate Leader (1913-2013).

As Karen said, in part:

In an era where countless organizations attempt Lean for all the wrong reasons and ill-informed improvement professionals spread wildly incorrect information about Lean, may we use this time of reflection to take a collective deep breath and recommit to practicing Lean as it was always intended: Achieving superior business performance  through people—in a very specific way.

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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

    WIth the passing of a great man like Mr Toyoda, is as you say a good time to stop and reflect upon the many things he taught us.

    First and foremost for me will always be his respect for people, at all levels both in and out of the organization he ran. If everyone is involved you can and will get farther than when only one or a few make all the decisions.

    How he looked at problems comes a close second. When you start with a belief that you and the people around you can over come any problems you face, you stop considering them as something threatening and start looking at them as opportunities to get better. I feel this also lead to how he reacted to mistakes and failures, instead of them being something awful, they became learning experiences, and to create a great organization you need to be learning constantly.

    He shall be missed by many, but this will be the real test for Toyota, if they can maintain the culture and attitudes without his presence. I personally feel they will do fine, as his family shared his firm beliefs.


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