Gary Convis was named the first
American president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky,
on April 1, 2001. In April of this year, Convis was one
of two Americans named by Toyota Motor Corp. as a managing
Before coming to TMMK, Convis spent 16 years at the New
United Motor Manufacturing Inc. plant in California. He
was promoted to the position of executive vice president
and held a post on the board of directors. Prior to joining
NUMMI, Convis worked with both General Motors and Ford Motor
Toyota Global Vision 2010*
Innovation into the Future--A Passion to Create a
Through “Monozukuri--manufacturing of value-added
products” and “technological innovation,”
Toyota is aiming to help create a more prosperous
society. To realize this, the company is challenging
- Be a driving force in global regeneration by implementing
the most advanced environmental technologies.
- Create automobiles and a motorized society in
which people can live safely, securely and comfortably.
- Promote the appeal of cars throughout the world
and realize a large increase in the number of Toyota
- Be a truly global company that is trusted and
respected by all peoples around the world.
*Announced in April 2002
Bodek: I was fortunate to have met and
worked with Taiichi Ohno, former vice president of manufacturing
of Toyota, and Shigeo Shingo. Their Toyota Production System
was focused on improving the manufacturing processes. Today,
the techniques, the new tools, the new methods, the new
system, and terms like kaizen, jidoka, muda, SMED, TPM,
lean, standard work, takt time and others are becoming common
in contemporary manufacturing. But how do people fit into
this lean system? How has the Toyota system begun to change
the nature of work--the quality of work life?
Convis: Within North America,
and globally, Toyota is expanding without acquisitions.
It’s growing its culture country by country and operation
by operation, which is really a phenomenal situation. The
Fords and GMs of the world are buying Volvo or Saab or different
entities. Each of these new acquisitions developed over
the years brings its own culture.
Toyota, still headquartered in Japan, is very different
from that, gradually expanding globally with a centralized,
homocentric culture. The human side of lean is very understated
and probably underestimated.
I doubt that anybody outside Toyota could perceive how
much time, effort, discussion and sensitivity we have regarding
the human side of our business.
In recent years, we’ve developed the Toyota DNA.
The Toyota DNA is a combination of two important aspects
of Toyota; one is the Toyota Production System and the other
is managing the Toyota way. In just the last few years,
Fugio Cho, Toyota’s current president in Japan, has
Toyota way into a written format, coming from a process
of almost 10 years from many internal discussions. The Toyota
way, through our global management system, is to realize
the human effort so critical to our success. If we look
back at our history, the people who created Toyota--Sakichi
Toyoda and his son Kiichiro--had certain philosophies that
were practiced from the very beginning, but they weren’t
talked about much. It was more of how they did business.
People like myself have been given added responsibility
because we’ve demonstrated the traits and knowledge
that our senior officers have become comfortable with--to
be able to manage the way they strongly believe people need
to be managed.
Guiding Principles at Toyota Motor Corp.*
Honor the language and spirit of the law of every
nation and undertake open and fair corporate activities
to be a good corporate citizen of the world.
Respect the culture and customs of every nation and
contribute to economic and social development through
corporate activities in the communities.
Dedicate ourselves to providing clean and safe products
and to enhancing the quality of life everywhere through
all our activities.
Create and develop advanced technologies and provide
outstanding products and services that fulfill the
needs of customers worldwide.
Foster a corporate culture that enhances individual
creativity and teamwork value, while honoring mutual
trust and respect between labor and management.
Pursue growth in harmony with the global community
through innovative management.
Work with business partners in research and creation
to achieve stable, long-term growth and mutual benefits,
while keeping ourselves open to new partnerships.
*Established in 1990, revised in 1997; Translation
from original Japanese
Bodek: Every successful company has guiding
principles and values that pull them forward. Which have
been the bedrock of Toyota’s success?
Convis: There are two pillars;
one is continuous improvement. You might not call this a
human issue exactly, but Toyota’s success rests on
the need for all employees, all management, to be looking
for and striving for continuous improvement and never being
satisfied. I remember back in 1986 at NUMMI when we won
a silver J.D. Power award. We were pretty pleased about
it, but GM said, “You did a good job, but look at
all of the defects.” We were proud to win, but we
had a lot of room for improvement. That challenging environment--to
never be satisfied--is one of the pillars of the Toyota
way. As human beings, we need challenges. A basketball game
would be rather dull if you didn’t have a target to
shoot at and somebody keeping score.
To be challenged is a human need that we all require.
Of course, we rationalize on certain days over certain issues.
But to be part of a winning team drives us and provides
us human satisfaction. To feel connected to something that
is difficult is the Toyota way.
We believe very strongly in what the Japanese call “genchi
genbutsu,” the foundation of Toyota’s engineering
strategy, which means “Go, see, confirm and be aware
with your own eyes.” That’s why Kiichiro Toyoda
actually went to Europe, spending many months in England
looking at and assessing how they built their automatic
loom. He spent months under rigorous conditions to study
what others were doing. It’s part of our culture to
go and see, and not just to be cheerleaders. We want to
recognize what others are doing and also give them recognition
for what they’re doing, to understand it deeply and
help them, if they need help, offer an idea, open a door
Bodek: Continuous improvement is Toyota’s
first pillar for success. What’s the other?
Convis: The other pillar of
the Toyota way is respect for people and honesty. If you
don’t have respect for people who work for the company,
you’re in the wrong business. Individuals can tell
from your body language, from your voice, whether you respect
them for what they bring to the party. Just the fact that
they get up every day at 5 a.m., get dressed, make the effort
to come to work and do a good job, you must respect them
for that. Being a responsible manager in the Toyota entity
means you have a great responsibility to take care of the
people who are donating their lives to the company.
Bodek: What are some of the things Toyota
has done to demonstrate how this pillar of respect works
for you and them?
Convis: I think a real key
is having open two-way communications in which the employee
feels free and empowered to talk to the boss. We have many
ways to do that. We have a hotline call system in which
anyone can pick up the phone; the call is registered, and
the person does not have to give his or her name. We have
an obligation to respond to that complaint or to that call.
We don’t shirk any of them.
We have a president’s roundtable once a month and
randomly select a group of 30 to 40 people to have a “no
holds barred” meeting. We encourage them to ask people
on their team or in their group for topics that they’d
like to talk about. We encourage people to be very open.
We share reality, all of the facts and our knowledge on
an issue that they bring up. We find that they’re
very intelligent and very concerned about the company. We
tell them where we’re heading, what we’re doing
and so on.
Another example, last year we invested almost $200,000
to upgrade our communication hardware and software to improve
internal communications. We also reorganized some administrative
resources and expanded our communications group. We run
a small city here with almost 8,000 people, and the ability
to communicate with them is critical. We spend a lot of
time, effort and resources to enable us to do that and do
Bodek: Is this new equipment also used
to help people grow on the job through your training courses?
Convis: Yes, we upgraded our
ability to do videos very quickly without a lot of technical
difficulty. We’re moving toward a real-time on-demand
video network system throughout the company. We have a library
of probably more than 200 videos, and if there’s a
particular topic that team members want to know more about,
the group leader can pull up the video on his or her computer
screen. They can get the story right from the horse’s
mouth, whether it’s a policy issue, a procedural issue,
a speech I made in the past or some technical issue that
might need further investigation.
Bodek: What percentage of a person’s
time is spent on training?
Convis: The average is between
40 to 60 hours a year.
Bodek: What are some of the topics that
you developed videos on and that workers might be looking
into with you?
Convis: Topics change from
time to time. Four years ago, we focused on values, sexual
harassment issues and diversity. These issues still go on
and will always go on. During the last few years, we’ve
been creating more videos on the Toyota Production System,
standardized work and how to perform according activities.
One current issue, called “personal process operator,”
gives team members more opportunities and more responsibility.
The idea is to make operators individuals who are responsible
for taking care of some unique aspect of the process. This
can range from safety issues to certain quality issues in
the process. We’re trying to have a methodical way
of dividing important aspects of the work and giving more
control to key individuals. It’s all governed by a
set of standards based on the Toyota Production System standards
that we’ve developed. If there’s a difference
of opinion, we actually have ways of measuring it and coming
back to fundamental ways of thinking.
Bodek: Do you think the pace of the workers
in Kentucky is equal to the pace of the Toyota workers in
Convis: There are no real differences
today. They may be better in certain areas because they’ve
been at it longer. And because their country is smaller,
they enjoy leveraging that with their suppliers. Suppliers
in Japan do more work for the plants due to their proximity
to them. There might be a little more added value going
on, but I think our team members work consistently and dedicatedly
and are quickly catching up.
Bodek: Even though many companies teach
lean manufacturing today, very few of their employees can
make the distinction between value and nonvalue-adding.
It’s only when you respect and trust your employees
that they begin to look more carefully at what they do to
decide if it’s something that the customer wants to
Convis: It’s kind of
like being out in your garage. If you’re going to
do a project, you’re first going to get all of your
tools together to have them handy. You don’t want
to have to run down to the hardware store in the middle
of the job because you forgot about something. This same
thing is true in our work environment. We want everything
to be organized, to locate parts and have tooling in the
right spot. We want the heavier parts waist-high. There
are many things we teach. We call it process diagnostics.
We teach team members so that they can continuously improve
their process and reduce the nonvalue-added work. We feel
it’s our only way to ensure our long-term survival.
Bodek: Do you have and practice jidoka
the same way here as in Japan?
Bodek: When a worker detects a problem,
can he or she stop everyone from working until the problem
Convis: They do it every day.
Bodek: That in itself gives such power
to the worker. It gives incredible respect to the individual.
Convis: In our culture, it
obviously takes time for everybody to buy into it. It takes
fortitude. There are smart people here who know that the
line has to run for us to make money, but we have to build
quality into our products. We have the knowledge. We have
the right tools. We have the right parts. We have to build
in the quality were it belongs. Step by step, we’re
more efficient overall because we’re not repairing
and taking things apart that have already been put together.
We’re not creating new problems.
Bodek: Can people rotate their jobs?
Convis: Yes, we do rotate.
Typically we rotate four jobs per day. It keeps both the
mind and the body pretty sharp. It’s a talent you
have to cultivate to be astute. You have to concentrate
from one job to another. You have to know how to read the
manifest. You have to know where those parts were. You have
to know how to do it in our environment. We don’t
match-build here. We build a different kind of car; practically
every other car is different. It’s a challenge for
our team members.
Bodek: Hiroshi Okuda, Toyota chairman,
recently said: “Failure to change is a vice. I want
everyone at Toyota to change or at least not be an obstacle
to change.” How does that apply to you and the other
Toyota members in Kentucky?
Convis: Okuda is one of the
brightest people on the planet. In a world environment that
doesn’t embrace change easily, he’s a very unique
individual. As an example, he has recently restructured
the traditional Toyota board alignment. They realize that
in being global they have to make decisions quicker. They
needed to be more strategically driven by a smaller but
highly developed group of people, so they narrowed the board
down to senior managing directors and above. The new body
was called managing officers. I am one of the first three
non-Japanese executives to be given that responsibility,
which speaks to change in itself. The three individuals
have the Toyota DNA; my wife says I’m three-quarters
Bodek: When I was back in Japan in the
early 1980s, Ohno told me that for many years he wouldn’t
let anyone write down anything about the Toyota Production
System. His stated reason was that it was always changing.
But that was more than 20 years ago; what’s happening
Convis: As we speak, Toyota
is making a great investment in a global production center
housed at the Motomachi Plant in Japan. It will pretty much
centralize the teaching and the methodology of how we build
things, how we manage the process and how we manage major
model changeovers. It’s based once again on best practices
that have been derived around Toyota and from benchmarking
others. We’re now going to grow into this global production
center. That’s a big change for us from our past mother
Bodek: Give an example of what this means.
Convis: We have a power train
group here in TMMK building L 4 engines and L 6 engines.
We also have an axle operation in the power train group.
Each of the entities has a mother plant in Japan, and what
we find is that the mother plant has its own language, its
own way of doing things, its own little quirks on how it
writes standard work. When I got here, there wasn’t
a common language, a common format. Right inside our own
walls we weren’t exactly standardized. This was created
because of the mother plant differentiation. Toyota, as
it globalizes, finds it harder to manage, leverage and spread
best practices. To become a global company, Toyota has to
become more capable in teaching concepts. The global production
center will be beyond just teaching, but applying it as
well. There will be a very large mock-up of an assembly
area, a welding area and logistics handling kanban. It will
be a center to develop and demonstrate best practices.
The interview was conducted by Norman Bodek, president
of PCS Inc. and the author of The Idea Generator: Quick
and Easy Kaizen (PCS Press, 2001).