By Erica Olsen
What can we learn from Toyota?

We’re all familiar with the Boy Scout motto of “Be Prepared”, but have you considered applying this phrase in your professional life? The most successful companies out there know the value of preparation and the rest are taking a cue from the best.

A recent New York Times Magazine cover story chronicled the rise of Toyota from one-time textile loom manufacturer to “not only the best automaker in the world, but also maybe the best corporation”. Indeed, according to that article, Toyota has just about every major company in the world asking the question: “What can we learn from Toyota?” In fact, “what you can learn from Toyota is something even Bill Gates has pondered publicly.”

What doesn’t surprise anyone familiar with Toyota’s strategic history is that the company “never makes rash moves or false promises.” One obvious example of Toyota’s approach is the Prius hybrid. Jim Press, president of Toyota Motors North America, said that ‘about the same time the Prius made its debut, Ford rolled out the huge S.U.V. franchise’ even though ‘both of us had the same tea leaves, the same research. One of us bet on hybrid, one of us bet on big S.U.V.s.’ Toyota pondered, according to Press, that ‘First of all, long term, is fuel going to get cheaper or more expensive? Is oil going to become more plentiful or less plentiful? Is the air going to become cleaner or more polluted? And so, do you do something proactive and innovative, to be in tune with where society is going? Or do you hold on to where it has been, and then don’t let go, to the bitter end?’ Toyota’s overarching principle, according to Press, is ‘to enrich society through the building of cars and trucks’, and the company’s decision to pursue hybrids ten years ago was the answer to the question, ‘What’s the right thing to do to sustain the ability to sell more cars and trucks?’

The New York Times Magazine article quoted a Toyota employee who said that ‘Toyota expects to be in business 100 years from now, long after oil has been depleted or rendered unusable because of its carbon content, and for that reason it has placed all its bets on hybrid technologies.’

Is your business equally prepared?