TOKYO — If there is any doubt about Akio Toyoda's resolve to think outside the box in the new era of industry upheaval, look to one of his latest board appointees.
Philip Craven won't just be a rare non-Japanese at the helm of Toyota Motor.
The British national is also an acclaimed athlete with a string of medals from a storied career in international basketball. Oh, and he happens to play the sport from a wheelchair, after an accident left him without the use of his legs at age 16.
In many ways, Craven's appointment is a rallying cry for the entire company's transformation from automobile maker to mobility purveyor. Craven, 67, says he knows better than most the importance of having freedom of movement.
That perspective will be crucial as Toyota moves into new frontiers such as ride-hailing and autonomous cars in its bid to expand mobility across society, from disabled people to those too old or young to drive themselves.
"People's mobility is absolutely critical, and things are changing quickly these days," Craven told Automotive News Europe sister publication Automotive News in his first interview since being named to the Japanese carmaker's board this month. He will be one of two new outside directors taking office in June, pending approval at Toyota's annual shareholders meeting.
"If you have perceived disadvantages, then you've got to fight even harder to get what is justly yours. You have to be able to decide your own destiny and not have it decided for you," Craven said. "It's important to be able to offer products that maintain that independence of mind, that independence of action, for you to control your own destiny."
Craven, a former president of the International Paralympic Committee, first interacted with Toyota when the carmaker signed on as a top Paralympic and Olympic sponsor in 2015.
In February 2017, he was summoned to Toyoda's office in Nagoya, Japan, where the grandson of the company's founder surprised Craven with an invitation to join the board.
"I was gobsmacked," he recalled.
Craven, who enjoyed cricket and swimming as a boy, fell 30 feet while rock climbing as a teen, breaking his back. He was inspired to keep up sports by watching others play wheelchair basketball in the courtyard outside his hospital window.
Staying mobile poses challenges, but none that ever sidelined the effervescent Craven.
Craven's Lexus GS 300h hybrid sedan is outfitted with a hand-operated controller next to the steering wheel. The car brakes when it is pushed and accelerates when it is pulled.
To get in, Craven lifts himself into the seat. He whips off the wheelchair's big rear wheels and throws them in back. He collapses the rest and puts it on the passenger side.
"It probably takes 30 seconds," he said, adding that teammates taught him some shortcuts.
But the biggest lesson from a life in sports, he adds, is the importance of fair play.
"Once you start considering the slippery slope away from the principles that lead your life, then you're in big trouble," Craven said. "I'm pretty sure Toyota has a similar philosophy."