The resignation of Toyota Motor Corp.’s first female executive, who lasted just 90 days in the job, is a blow to Toyota’s drive to make management ranks more international and accepting of female executives.
It also deals a high-profile setback to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has made empowering women a priority to help modernize and jump-start the nation’s economy, including calling on Japan Inc. to have women in 30 percent of leadership roles by the end of the decade.
Julie Hamp, a 55-year-old American who was Toyota’s chief communications officer and one of the company’s highest-ranking non-Japanese executives, gave notice of her resignation Tuesday over her drug-related arrest last month.
Toyota announced Wednesday that it accepted the resignation, citing the concerns and inconvenience raised by her June 18 arrest for allegedly importing prescription painkillers that require prior permission before they can be brought into Japan.
“Japan Inc. will suffer from this,” Jeff Kingston, professor of Asian Studies at Temple University’s Japan Campus in Tokyo, said by telephone. Hamp’s treatment by the police and local media “sends a chilling message to other foreign managers who might be considering a posting to Japan.”
From Toyota to Sony Corp., Japanese companies succeeded on the world stage through the 1990s despite maintaining an insular management culture dominated by lifelong company salarymen. That closed business model began to show cracks as the economy struggled through two decades of deflation, prompting calls for companies to hire and promote outsiders for diverse ideas and skills.
“You had a lot of groupthink where everybody thought the same, and in the past that was seen as a great thing for Japan,” said Chris Rowley, professor of human resource management at Cass Business School in London and Griffith University in Australia. “Now, it’s seen as not such a good thing. You don’t get a diversity of opinions when everyone goes along.”
Toyota President Akio Toyoda called a news conference Wednesday after Hamp’s arrest to say he was confident she had not intentionally broken Japanese law. The company had pointed to her appointment as evidence that it was diversifying its executive ranks, made up predominantly of Japanese men.
“I hired and promoted Mrs. Hamp as officer regardless of the gender or nationality because we wanted to choose the person who was most suitable for the position,” Toyoda told reporters last month. “We would like to become truly globalized, and it was a valuable first step forward. She took action to respond to that. I appreciated her for that action.”
The Metropolitan Police Department arrested Hamp on suspicion she had imported the pain medication oxycodone, police spokesmen have said, asking not to be named in accordance with its policy. Police can hold Hamp in jail until July 8 before prosecutors are required to decide on a potential indictment.
Hamp had been named the global head of communications for Toyota in April. She joined the company in June 2012 from PepsiCo Inc., where she was a senior vice president, and worked previously for General Motors Corp.
“The problems of one senior executive should not cast a pall on the bigger objective of fairness at all levels of work-life,” Devin Stewart, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affairs in New York, said in an email message. “It is still difficult for foreigners to integrate into management positions, especially in traditional Japanese manufacturing companies, although it is getting better.”