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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Toyoda shows East-West divide

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Toyoda shows East-West divide

Automaker's president is from exec culture that favors consensus, avoids confrontation

Yuri Kageyama / Associated Press

Tokyo -- Hailing from a corporate culture that values consensus over decisive authority, Toyota President Akio Toyoda is in for a culture shock when he faces a barrage of questions today from U.S. lawmakers about quality lapses at the automaker.

Top executives tend to be revered in Japan's conservative culture, although they are generally not management professionals and are often lower paid than their American counterparts.

"I'm sure he is desperately getting a crash course in how to field all the tough questions," said Ryoichi Shinozaki, a crisis management expert at Kyodo Public Relations Co. in Tokyo.

His advice: Stay in control, remember you're always being watched and, whatever you do, don't get teary-eyed, as some Japanese company presidents under siege have done in the past to win sympathy in Japan.

"Americans will just think you have no business running a company," Shinozaki said. "Stick to the key message that you will put customers first, do everything it takes and won't allow this to happen again."

In harmony-loving Japan, company heads are usually picked to be cheerleaders for the rank-and-file. Toyoda, because of his bloodline as grandson of Toyota Motor Corp.'s founder, was groomed to play that morale-boosting role.

"In a Japanese company, the top man isn't the one calling the shots. He is looked up to as a symbol, a bit like the emperor," says Toyoaki Nishida, professor of business at Chubu University, referring to Japan's imperial family, which wields no political power.

Given such differences in corporate cultures between Japan and the United States, it wasn't unusual that Toyoda initially said his U.S. executives were the best people to testify at the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Toyota's recalls, now reaching 8.5 million vehicles globally for sudden acceleration and braking issues.

He agreed to go late last week only after getting a formal invitation and as criticism flared that he should be the one to explain the safety lapses.

In three news conferences this month, Toyoda has stayed true to form as a Japanese president and left the details of defects and quality measures to another executive.

Parissa Haghirian, associate professor of International Management at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Japanese companies are group-oriented, and generally don't look to one person to steer them, unlike the West, where executives are hired for ideas and leadership.

Japanese presidents are team leaders who coordinate everyone's views and care intensely about peer opinion because confrontation must be avoided, she told The Associated Press.

Japan has a special phrase to describe such behind-the-scenes consensus-building, "nemawashi," which translates as "laying the groundwork." Neglecting nemawashi is considered a sure way to walk into failure.

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20100224/AUTO01/2240356/1148/Toyoda-shows-East-West-divide#ixzz0gSa69PnK

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