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Protecting human capital amid the pandemic

Murali Gopalan | Updated on May 14, 2020 Published on May 14, 2020

‘The industry must have an eye for identifying crucial elements that it should keep and maintain’

It was some weeks ago that Akio Toyoda referred to a situation where cars “cannot be sold around the world” and, because of this, operations had to be stopped in some plants.

The Chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation made these comments at a meeting of the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA), when Covid-19 was threatening to engulf the world. Besides Toyota, other JAMA car members include Honda, Nissan, Suzuki, Subaru, Daihatsu and Mazda.

“If this continues, we may face a situation where some of our friends or partners may not be able to continue operations. However, looking to the future, the underlying technology cannot be lost and there are people with expertise that no machines can ever copy,” said Toyoda, who is also head of JAMA.

Yet, he was concerned that if these human capital resources were leaked or cut off, the future “we envision will grow more distant” many years ahead. Hence, continued the Toyota Motor Chairman, the top priority was to work in a timely manner.

“To do that, we need the power of mekiki, an eye for identifying the crucial elements that the automotive industry should keep and maintain, during the most challenging, unstable times,” said Toyoda.

This skill, according to him, was in the hands of those automakers who understood monozukuri, the art of manufacturing. “I hope we can consider a fund that combines both our mekiki and the capital you wish to invest in the future of automobiles together,” added Toyoda.

It was his belief that with mekiki, it was possible to match people with skills. If there was someone with a high level of expertise or skills who “is unfortunate and about to lose a place to work”, that person will first be introduced to a company within the automotive industry requiring those skills.

“In addition to protecting monozukuri within the automotive industry, we hope to reduce the amount of unhappiness and instead increase happiness. I hope we can create this kind of system,” said Toyoda.

As companies gradually begin to resume work after Covid-19, the Toyota chief said, there would be a need to make “our cars even better and even more wonderful”, so that people can enjoy moving more than ever.

“If the automobile industry survives, it will have a connected impact for many people,” he added. Even before he was born (Toyoda turned 64 earlier this month), he heard stories from the post-war era about how Toyota had lost people and factories. Yet, it still survived by choosing to produce whatever needed to be produced.

“Among the products we made were things like frying pans and pots, and we cultivated the wasteland around the factories to be able to produce potatoes and barley,” narrated Toyoda.

Another auto brand, Subaru, also made all types of lifestyle products during this time including agricultural equipment, carriages for babies, sewing machines and even clippers for barbers.

“As an industry, I believe we have the tenacious DNA that will help us to survive, so we should do all we can to survive. When this Covid-19 situation has ended ... when people say ‘Come on! Move forward! Get outside!’, that will be the time that we would like the automotive industry to be the best engine to revive the economy as soon as possible,” said Toyoda.

Published on May 14, 2020

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