Toyota Motor Corp. is handing non-Japanese executives major promotions in the third overhaul of its complex business structure in six years, as President Akio Toyoda seeks ways to make the world’s largest automaker more nimble.
Didier Leroy, appointed to the highest rank for a non-Japanese executive a year ago, adds the newly created chief competitive officer position as of April 1, Toyota said Wednesday in a statement. Steve St. Angelo, who helped steer the carmaker through its unintended acceleration crisis, is the lone executive newly becoming a senior managing officer.
Leroy and St. Angelo will be among senior executives overseeing seven business units managing Toyota’s sprawling product strategy and development efforts, with responsibilities ranging from compact cars to commercial vehicles and Lexus luxury models.
Toyoda, 59, pledged last year to continue pushing for more diversity in his executive team comprised mostly of long-tenured Japanese men. A drug scandal led Toyota’s first and only female executive to resign last year.
“This structural change may not be the ultimate solution, but it is certainly an opportunity,” Toyoda said in the statement. “Whether or not this structural change turns out to be the right solution or not is in our hands.”
In 2011, Toyoda revamped management to promote local decision-making. Two years later, he divided the organization by developed and emerging markets, Lexus and auto parts. The company is now layering additional business units on top of that structure.
The management changes announced Wednesday were the first opportunity for the nation’s biggest company to re-emphasize diversity through an annual executive shake-up following the departure of former communications chief Julie Hamp in June.
Hamp, who became Toyota’s first female managing officer in April, spent 20 days in detention on suspicion of violating Japan’s drug laws by importing the pain medication oxycodone. She tendered her resignation from jail before being released without charges.
Toyota is among Japan Inc. companies under a microscope as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe seeks a greater role for women in the country’s workforce. While Abe has said he wants to see women rise to 30 percent of management positions in all fields by 2020, his Cabinet approved a goal of 15 percent for Japan’s private-sector companies in December.
After management changes taking effect in April, 52 of Toyota’s 60 executives will be Japanese, and none are women.
Leroy, 58, ran Toyota’s European operations since 2010. He’s now one of only four executive vice presidents ranking just below Toyoda, the grandson of the company’s founder. The Frenchman gained Toyoda’s respect in part by his willingness to challenge the boss, Leroy said in an interview last year.
Winning over Toyoda has not spared Leroy from doubters. Days before Hamp’s arrest at Toyota’s annual shareholders’ meeting last year, an investor who said he worked for a dealership in Japan raised concern that Leroy would oversee domestic sales.
Leroy said it was necessary to bring fresh ideas that would help make Toyota a more global company. Toyoda said Leroy’s response, delivered in English, may have been the first case in which a foreign language was spoken at a Toyota annual meeting.