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Family man: Akio Toyoda is set to step up to the top job in the family company.

Toyota founder’s grandson set to take the company’s reins

23 Jan 2009

TOYOTA will soon have its first family leader for a generation after announcing that Akio Toyoda – the grandson of company founder Kiichiro Toyoda – will become president in June.

Mr Toyoda, 52, is said to have been groomed for the top job and has advanced rapidly through the executive ranks to become the first family member to lead Toyota Motor Corporation since 1995. His father, Shoichiro Toyoda, was president from 1982 to 1992.

He will replace Katsuaki Watanabe, who will have been president for four years by the time he steps down at the company’s AGM in June, having taken Toyota to world market leadership and unprecedented financial health prior to the recent global downturn.

Mr Watanabe will become a vice-chairman, replacing Katsuhiro Nakagawa, while another former president, the long-serving Fujio Cho, will remain as chairman.

The ascendancy of Mr Toyoda to the top job at TMC is seen as a changing of the guard for the world’s No. 1 brand and a move towards relative youth as he is 14 years younger than the man he replaces.

As well as literally having Toyota in his blood, Mr Toyoda is a car enthusiast and is credited with spearheading the development of two high-performance models – the Lexus IS-F, which has just been launched in Australia as a BMW M3 rival, and the Lexus LF-A supercar, which is due to go into production later this year.

Described by >i/i< magazine as “a determined debater”, Mr Toyoda is said to have pushed hard to save the LF-A from becoming a casualty of recent cuts like the Honda NSX.

An enthusiastic amateur racer, Mr Toyoda has driven LF-A prototypes at the Nurburgring in Germany, where the car contested a 24 hour race last May, and in a public exhibition at Fuji Speedway in Japan.

Mr Toyoda earned a law degree in Tokyo and an MBA in Boston, and joined Toyota in 1984 after working in the financial sector in New York and London. With few funds, he helped Toyota break into the fledgling internet through a venture called Gazoo.com, which became a leading site in Japan for enthusiasts.

In 2000 he joined Toyota’s board of directors and the following year was put in charge of the company’s operations in China, where it was yet to establish much of a presence, and helped establish key alliances. In 2003 he became Toyota’s youngest senior managing director.

Mr Toyoda went back to the US as vice-president of Toyota’s NUMMI joint-venture with General Motors, returned to Japan to help reinvigorate Toyota’s declining domestic sales and in 2008 was made chairman of Toyota Motor Europe.

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