Stealing the 7 Secrets of Toyota’s Business Success

Taizo Ishida (1888-1979) took over the role of President of Toyota from the inventor and founder Kiichiro Toyoda in the midst of labor unrest, layoffs and the threat of bankruptcy. Ishida is considered the “restorer of Toyota” for good reason in that his business acumen, leadership and what would later be called lean values helped bring Toyota out of its crisis. Ishida shares his secrets of success in the book The 7 Principles of Toyota’s Business Success (トヨタの商売 成功の7原則).

These seven principles are:

1. Establish industry with Japanese minds and skills. In this phrase we see a strong desire to contribute to a positive Japanese trade balance with the world, as well as to develop the nation’s industrial capability. Replace “industry” with your type of business, institution or economic sector and “Japanese” with the people of your own region and you can steal this secret of strong long-term purpose tied to community.

2. Good thinking, good products – creativity and craft. Both of these phrases can be seen with Toyota to this day, unchanged. They have survived for 60 years because they are timeless, pithy and proven to deliver results. Toyota’s business origins were in invention (the automatic loom) a good product from good thinking. The name of Toyota’s kaizen suggestion system is the “creativity and craft” system, which Toyota stole from Ford in 1951. In principle or in practice, this is is a success secret every organization should own.

3. Spirit of country people. There may be a note of local pride or even defiance here, as the region of Toyota’s origin was rural and far from the financial, intellectual or economic center of Japan. No doubt the rural values of hard work, resourcefulness and the lack of unnecessary cultural sophistication in running a successful manufacturing business was a part of this principle. The harried treasure hunter leaves behind what looks suspiciously like large lump of coal. The savvy treasure hunter steals this huge gem.

4. Indomitable fighting spirit – will power. Steal this if you can, beg or borrow it if you can’t, but make it yours and don’t give it back.

5. Self-reliance. The principle of self-reliance is consistent with the spirit of rural work ethic, strengthening Japanese industry and Ishida’s renowned frugality. This frugality was strengthened by the humiliation Ishida suffered at the hands of Japanese bankers during his early days as President when Toyota nearly went out of business. Ishida did not hesitate to invest in equipment to make more money, as long as the money was not the bank’s. “Defend your own castle” was a famous saying of Ishida’s. Let’s go with “Rob your own bank” on this one.

6. Joint effort. We can say “all for one and one for all” as the catch phrase that best reflects this Toyota business secret. Unless Principle #1 was misplaced shortly after being stolen, this principle should just be a question of leadership maintaining focus.

7. Development of people. Last on the list but primary in importance, steal this principle early and often, as it tends to slip through our fingers like a thin silver chain.

Ishida was a humble man who said that he was only temporarily holding the seat of the President until Kiichiro Toyoda returned to that role. He also said that he was channeling old man Toyoda when he set out these principles, carrying on the founder’s vision rather than setting out to make a name for himself. His advice was widely sought by leaders of Japanese industrial giants. Ishida deserves great credit for reviving Toyota at a critical moment in its history, securing a firm foundation of values and principles and insisting on zero tolerance of waste.
To learn more about the early days of Toyota and the influence of Taizo Ishida on the development of the Toyota Way, I recommend Inside the Mind of Toyota: Management Principles for Enduring Growth by Satoshi Hino. To the leader who would dare steal the 7 secrets of Toyota’s business success, let it be known that these are not treasures to be hidden away but to be shared openly with any and all who would steal them from you.