The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan


April 2014
Fujio Cho: 2013 ACCJ Person of the Year
Custom Media

Fujio Cho is the honorary chairman of Toyota Motor Corporation and, as president of the Japan Sports Association, was instrumental in Tokyo’s successful bid to host the 2020 Olympic and Paralympic Games. For his achievements, Cho has also been named as the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan’s Person of the Year.

Born in Tokyo and a graduate of the University of Tokyo, Cho joined Toyota in 1960. Now 77, he lives in Toyota City, the headquarters of the car manufacturer’s global business, with his wife, Emiko.

ACCJ Journal: Congratulations on being named the ACCJ’s Person of the Year; what does this honor mean to you?

Cho: It was a great honor to be recognized by the ACCJ in this way, especially when you consider the many outstanding ambassadors and businesspeople who have previously received this award.

Previous recipients have contributed so much to enhancing US–Japan relations and assisted to develop business opportunities for many people in Japan and in the US.

What was your reaction when you heard the news?

I was taken aback. I did not expect this at all, especially as our former chairman, Hiroshi Okuda, was named Person of the Year by the ACCJ a few years ago. Then I wondered if this might help me in getting a pay raise! No, just kidding about that.

What have been the biggest challenges for Toyota? How have you managed those challenges?

After a series of difficulties, 2013 was the first time that we could turn our full attention to building the foundation for sustainable growth. This would be the foundation of true competitiveness, and not significantly affected by external factors such as currency fluctuations, individual model cycles, disasters, and so on.

The biggest challenges all revolve around one issue: how we can use our business resources to ensure that we continue to contribute to society and continue to offer cars that delight the customer. A key question is, “What are a company’s most important resources?” I think people are the most important resources that any company has. Regarding quality, we must also continue to build in quality through each step of the job and, in the spirit of kaizen [improvement], to find better ways to offer “Always Better Cars.”

What are the most significant changes in the 50 years you have been with the company and what do you view as the priorities for Toyota over the next decade?

A lot has happened in 50 years, but probably the biggest change has been the globalization of Toyota.

Now, more than ever, we count on our local executives, engineers, and designers to grasp the needs of the customer and to take action to satisfy those needs—and even to surpass customers’ expectations.

Regarding the priorities for the next decade, I think what is most important for a globalized Toyota is to strengthen the communication, understanding, and actions of all employees. As the organization grows, it becomes more specialized into separate functions and, as people with rich experience retire, we are in danger of becoming a company without the benefit of a common culture and set of experiences.

So managers who have a deep understanding of Toyota’s principles and ways of doing business must help people new to Toyota to learn what is most important.

How would you describe Tokyo’s victory in the race to host the 2020 Olympic Games?

I think it was like any good sporting competition. Preparation, a carefully planned execution, teamwork, and confidence all make the difference in one fine competitor prevailing over another.

When the winning city was announced, what was the first thought that went through your mind?

It was nothing but pure delight. Many people had worked very hard to communicate why Tokyo would be an excellent choice as host city for the Games.

The selection of Tokyo validated the efforts of the many organizations, including the ACCJ, that provided support. I also felt excitement, because I knew that the organizers could move to the next stage and begin concrete planning for 2020.

What do you believe the Games will do for Tokyo and Japan over the longer term?

Just as the 1964 Tokyo Games did, Tokyo 2020 can demonstrate the benefits of sport to a new generation and show that sport can serve as a symbol for important values.

In Japan, we have been using sports activities such as the Sports Heart Program, in which top-class athletes visit Tohoku schools that have been affected by the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake.

The 2020 Games can be expected to further the effectiveness of sport as a way to offer hope to the Japanese people and promote national spirit, unity, and confidence. In terms of more specific benefits, investment in airport, train, and road infrastructure will allow Tokyo to become an even more convenient city.

And what sensations and memories do you think foreign visitors will take away from Tokyo 2020?

I think Tokyo will make an unforgettable impression as a modern, dynamic city that leads the way in terms of global trends and, at the same time, has a strong respect for its own history and culture.

Since the victory was announced, what has been your role in the campaign?

I am chairman of the Japan Sports Association and an executive board member of the Japan Olympic Committee, so I am still very much involved.

However, my role is evolving. The emphasis is now on supporting the Tokyo 2020 Organizing Committee, encouraging more stakeholder organizations to get involved, and, as an executive of Toyota, helping to define the exact nature of Toyota’s participation.

How do you anticipate Japan–US relations will evolve in the coming months and years?

Mike Mansfield, the former US Ambassador to Japan, always made a point of emphasizing that the most important bilateral relationship in the world is that between the United States and Japan.

Going forward, what can we expect of the relationship? Under increased globalization, supported by regional and bilateral trade agreements, I think we can anticipate a playing field that offers the benefits of reduced tariffs and greater harmonization of standards and regulations that make it easier to invest and do business in markets around the world.

In this context, greater US–Japan cooperation will enhance the competitiveness of both countries while, at the same time, ties should further deepen to take advantage of the situation.

How important is the US market to Toyota?

The US is one of our most important markets. Toyota has deep roots—we opened our US sales operations in the 1950s—and an expanding future in America.

Our 2013 sales were up 7 percent to 2.24 million units, second only to our sales record in 2007. We create more than 365,000 jobs; 31,000 of them through direct employment. We have invested over $19.5 billion in facilities and equipment and we buy items worth $27.5 billion annually from more than 500 US suppliers.

And, most importantly, we dearly value our place in US communities and contribute through initiatives, mostly focusing on safety, education, and the environment.

How might the Japan–US relationship be enhanced?

Enhancing mutual cultural understanding is very important for the US–Japan relationship, especially among young people.

Ambassador John Roos and his wife were selected as ACCJ People of the Year last year, in part because they made many valuable contributions to the US–Japan relationship through encouraging better understanding. I hope the coming years will also lead to a spike in educational and cultural exchanges for the younger generations, such as the Tomodachi Initiative that I know the ACCJ supports, as well as business and leadership programs such as the Mansfield Fellowships and others.