I am sorry

I am sorry.

These three words have been ringing about in my mind for the past week or so. No, I didn’t do anything terrible… in other words I am not personally sorry for anything.

The reason these words have been stuck in mind is because current Toyota President Katsuaki Watanabe, in response to the news that Toyota expects to lose $8.6 billion during this fiscal year, recently stated:

“Of course the external environment doesn’t help, but we were lacking in the scope and speed of dealing with various problems and issues, and for that I am sorry.”

Initially I was taken aback by Mr. Watanabe’s humility and courage for taking personal responsibility

Then I struggled with the idea that perhaps it’s easy, and dare I say convenient, to say you’re sorry when things go wrong.

My children often reply with these same three words when they’ve made a mistake. And if I sense they are truly contrite I may go easier on them.

So, I’m curious, what are your initial thoughts when you read Mr. Watanabe’s words?

Are you more willing to give him a pass since he says he’s sorry and they are, after all, the mighty Toyota?

Or do your eyes roll back in your head as you think to yourself… sorry doesn’t pay the bills, pal.

What do you think?

13 Comments

  1. Brent Alan

    May 15, 2009 - 7:10 am

    Fair question. All I can say is most people wouldn’t have accepted sorry from the former GM CEO. Instead, they wanted his head on a platter. I may be willing to be a little less dramatic in this situation since this is the first time Toyota has missed the mark.

  2. Chris Y.

    May 15, 2009 - 7:16 am

    If it were coming from any of the “big three”, I would be less convinced that it was that sincere. However, with the culture of the Japanese and specifically Toyota, I’m much more willing to believe that he is taking personal responsibility for their downturn. I believe this is a wake-up call for Toyota. I also believe that they have wondered off their “lean journey” over the past several years and this economic crisis that we are all going through has really opened up some eyes in the Toyota ranks.

  3. Brian Campbell

    May 15, 2009 - 7:42 am

    Mr. Watanabe’s apology is refreshing, because apologies by U.S. execs are rare. His attitude “we were lacking in scope and speed of dealing with problems” is WORLDS APART from execs at GM & Chrysler. How come none of Wall St bankers said “I am sorry” like Watanabe-san? (These are bankers & AIG insurance execs who drove credit mkts into the abyss… invented “credit default swaps” that failed, lead U.S. economy into panic, etc, and now there’s global recession…)

    Cultural differences must be the reason for stark differences in apologies.

    It is sad that GM & Chrysler are laying off 1000s, idling factorys, closing 100s of dealerships. They waited too long to transform their companies. I hope Toyota will weather the storm better,,, I love the durability of their vehicles.

  4. Skeptic

    May 15, 2009 - 7:53 am

    I get sick of people always taking up for Toyota while constantly bashing everyone else. It’s quite simple. Toyota built too much world wide capacity and is paying for their sin now. I also predict layoffs are coming for them. I’m pretty sure James Womack talked about Toyota’s pending crisis months ago. Just because they have an amazing production system doesn’t mean we shouldn’t call them to task like we do everyone else.

  5. John Hunter

    May 15, 2009 - 12:13 pm

    Saying the words doesn’t mean much. Saying the words and believing them mean alot. The important piece is not saying them but meaning them. I own stock in Toyota and I am very happy with their performance. They are reacting to the poor results. They are making changes. They could have done better but frankly they have done much better than I would expect them to. That is why I am happy to be a stockholder they are constantly looking to improve. And they are successful doing so. Not perfect, but very successful.

    Normally those that are very successful also see that they could still do better. While many that are less successful find explanations for why they deserve huge bonuses.

  6. Observer

    May 16, 2009 - 8:31 am

    I agree one should be humble and admit a mess when a mess happens. The bankers did a big goof in the way they handled debt. Some one also rewarded them with big bonuses.

    When demand shrinks, and a company ishit because of that, it shows they became very dependent on high market demand. Perhaps this is a risk factor.

    In the city where I live there is a very popular restaurant. The qualtiy of food was good and its popularity soared. If they had opened a hundred outlets, they would have got more business. But in such matters people’s taste could have changed and their satisfying demand could have been super saturated. They did not expand. There is a continued demand. They have held their own in a small niche.

    Is there a lesson here. Is expanding to fill the market to the brim a set up for future failure? Should quality of corporate govenrnance be measured by performance during normal times or in times of crisis?

  7. Nathaniel

    May 18, 2009 - 11:18 pm

    His entire comment denotes personal accountability, something lacking in most modern corporate leadership, but vital to their organization’s success.

  8. Jeremy Garner

    May 20, 2009 - 3:30 pm

    I agree, considering the way that the Japanese esteem honor, the contrition in Mr. Watanabe’s apology can safely be considered authentic. The shaking that we are experiencing in our economic situation has taken many by suprise. Looking at Toyota’s history, hardship has been the catalyst for improvement and there is always risk in investment. My hopes and expectations are high for Toyota and right now a good dose of humility is what we all need to make it through this tough time, whether we’re “giving” the apology or “recieving” it.

  9. Mark Welch

    May 22, 2009 - 12:23 pm

    This is a cultural difference between companies as well as countries. The U.S. has essentially lost much of its sense of honor, dignity, and humility. It’s all around us, from unapologetic CEOs to athletes who beat their chests and celebrate themselves instead of their team to the idiotic television programming we are fed (if we watch it). Most of the greatest civilizations on earth didn’t crumble from external invasion – it was internal ethical & moral decline. Are we next?