July 23, 2024

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Toyota Investors Challenge Scion’s Grip at a ‘Critical Juncture’

2 min read

During his long tenure as chief executive, Akio Toyoda led Toyota Motor to the top of the car industry.

Toyota today sells more cars than any other automaker in the world. It was Mr. Toyoda’s bet on the enduring popularity of hybrid gas-electric vehicles that last year helped Toyota achieve the biggest annual profit in Japanese history.

Mr. Toyoda, whose grandfather founded Toyota in 1937, is the force that propels the company — and that is a problem, according to multiple people inside and outside of Toyota.

In early 2023, Mr. Toyoda stepped down after nearly 14 years as chief executive to become chairman. But a little more than a year after the new chief executive took over, some Toyota board members have flagged concerns that Mr. Toyoda is continuing to drive major projects and may retain too much unchecked sway within the company.

Several big Toyota investors said they planned to vote against his re-election to the board of directors ahead of the company’s annual shareholder meeting, which will be held on Tuesday.

“You have a case of a particularly empowered executive sitting in a chairman’s role,” said Michael Garland, the head of corporate governance at the New York City Comptroller’s Office, which manages the city’s more than $260 billion retirement fund system. “Toyota’s need for more independent board oversight is significant.”

Replacing successful chief executives, especially those with long tenures, is often tricky. Companies must make sure they clear a smooth path for successors to take over without undermining business practices that are working and, most important, producing profits.

“Not having ample checks and balances is just bad governance, but course correct too much and a company can just lose its momentum completely,” said Howard Yu, director of IMD Business School’s advanced management program. “Toyota is at this critical juncture.”

Mr. Toyoda, 68, navigated Toyota through several bruising episodes as chief…

River Akira Davis

2024-06-17 00:01:10

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