Toyota President Akio Toyoda made news this spring when he spoke of "a sense of crisis" within the automaker. His words came as the company braced for two years of declining profits and he said Toyota would streamline its operations to improve the bottom line. One of the people tasked with executing Toyoda's vision is Frenchman Didier Leroy, who is Toyota’s first non-Japanese executive vice president as well as the company’s chief competitive officer and president of business planning and operation. Leroy explained how Toyota is meeting the challenges that lie ahead during a recent interview with Automotive News Europe Correspondent Peter Sigal.
You have many roles at Toyota and you're responsible for many regions. How do you balance those jobs?
Akio Toyoda is very clear about his expectations for me as an executive vice president. His expectation is that I act as a real entrepreneur: It's your company, your money, you make decisions with a fully entrepreneurial spirit.
Is that level of autonomy normal?
Before Akio Toyoda became president, each executive vice president had a very siloed role and responsibility. He asks us to take a wider view and to really think about what we should do to strengthen the company in the future. There is a great deal of consistency between my three positions: As executive vice president, I need to think about what direction we should take in the future and what strategy we should have, without any borders. My role as chief competitive officer is consistent with my role as EVP because if we want to secure our future in the long term, we must continue to bring energy, passion and fighting spirit to every part of the business. Then, as president of business planning and operation, there is a lot of consistency with the other two jobs because I'm covering the world. My biggest challenge is how to be close to employees -- I need to travel a lot to bring them this energy.
How do you define competitiveness?
People often talk about competitiveness in terms of KPIs [key performance indicators], such as evaluating productivity and so on. Frankly, anyone can do that. The difference in our idea of competitiveness is that the starting point is human resources development. It's much more important than any KPI. It's based on how we can identify and develop the right leaders, to make things happen and keep a strong fighting spirit and passion in everything we do.
Akio Toyoda said this spring that he was feeling a "sense of crisis" about operations throughout the company. What does that mean to you, and how is Toyota responding to his words?
"Sense of crisis" means that it doesn't matter if you are successful today, if you have lots of cash, if you have a big market share, if you have 10 million unit sales. It doesn't mean that you are protected in the future. Everything can be destroyed in just a few years.