Twenty years in the making: The backstory behind the new Toyota-SoftBank joint venture

by Cory Baird

Staff Writer

Appearing together at news conference on Thursday in Tokyo, Toyota Motor Corp. President Akio Toyoda and SoftBank Group Corp. Chairman Masayoshi Son recounted an episode 20 years prior that put the two at loggerheads over a proposed business venture.

Fast forward 20 years and the two were gleefully laughing off the incident as they celebrated the launch of a joint business, Monet Technologies Corp., which will offer on-demand services ranging from food delivery to medical care.

During their discussion, Toyoda did not shy away from the fact that times had certainly changed.

“Thinking back, the first time I met Mr. Son was about 20 years ago,” said Toyoda. “Mr. Son proposed to the Toyota board that we should adopt the American-born ‘net dealer’ concept for domestic sales.”

Toyoda, however, was not a fan of the proposal.

A mid-level manager, at the time, Toyoda had overseen the development of a similar in-house online system, making Son’s proposal “impossible” for him to accept.

“I still remember clearly that I went to Mr. Son and declined his proposal,” said Toyoda. “I think we were rude … but I am grateful that Mr. Son was able to overlook it.”

As the two sat across from each other on stage, Toyoda admitted he was skeptical that Son would accept a proposal for a joint business due to fears there might be hard feelings over the incident two decades ago.

But with his usual sunny demeanor, Son said the refusal didn’t dim his hopes that they would one day work together.

“I wasn’t mad (about the refusal), I was just let down,” said Son. “But I had a feeling that one day we would have one more chance to form something.”

According to the two, this time around the proposal to work together came from Toyota’s side.

Asked for his reaction when he was told of the plan, Son said all he could muster was, “Are you serious?”

After getting over the initial shock, he added that of course he was still keen on working together.