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Former Toyota President Tatsuro Toyoda dies at 88

AP, Staff Report

Tatsuro Toyoda, the former Toyota Motor Corp. president who led the company’s ascent to one of the world’s top automakers, has died. He was 88.

A son of Toyota founder Kiichiro Toyoda, he joined the Toyota group in 1953 after graduating from the engineering department of the University of Tokyo.

He became the president of a joint venture set up by Toyota and GM in 1984 called NUMMI, which stands for New United Motor Manufacturing Inc. He played a key role in promoting the automaker’s business in North America.

At the time, NUMMI was heralded as a pioneer for international collaboration in the auto industry.

With a career focused on international operations, Toyoda is known for his efforts to combine Toyota’s corporate culture of super-efficiency, teamwork and worker empowerment with American culture, including a new style of labor-management relations.

The automaker’s seventh president stepped down from the position in 1995 but kept his other posts, including adviser, a title he held until his death.

When Toyoda handed the helm to an executive outside the family, there was speculation he might be the last Toyoda to lead the company.

But Akio Toyoda, a son of Shoichiro Toyoda, defied skeptics to become president in 2009, underlining the family’s legacy for the automaker. The rural house that marks the automaker’s humble beginnings serves as a monument today. Toyota employees still repeat sayings handed down by the family leaders about hard work and taking a hands-on approach.

The company’s name is spelled and pronounced with a “T” in place of the “D” in the family name because it is considered to bring luck, according to fortune-telling customs.

Toyoda earned his MBA in 1958 from New York University, where he studied under quality-control expert W. Edwards Deming, an American credited with heavily influencing Japan’s manufacturing industry and helping develop its reputation for quality.

A memorial service with family members has already been held, but a bigger farewell is being planned, according to the automaker.

Toyoda is survived by his wife, Ayako Toyoda. Details on the rest of his kin were not immediately available.