You Say Toyota, I Say Toyoda

Sept. 17, 2013
We learned a lot from Eiji Toyoda's success with Lean at Toyota that will last us a lifetime.

I was reading that Eiji Toyoda, a member of Toyota's founding family, passed away at the ripe old age of 100 the other day. When he was president of Toyota in 1967, he made a big push for the mass production of cars using the now famous Just-In-Time (JIT) production system to cut waste and improve efficiency, “kaizen” or continuous improvement, and “jidoka,” which is the use of machines that shut down when irregularities are detected.

Over the past 30+ years, I’ve seen the concept in America go from business people throwing around the term “JIT” without really know exactly what it was, to today where a more all encompassing and holistic method of “Lean Enterprise” using tools such as JIT systems is commonly used in not only manufacturing, but the office and supply chain and beyond.

While recently some of Toyota’s successes have been tarnished somewhat as a result of their quality issues (ironically, in some part due to not controlling quality in their supply chain with contractors that manufacturer their accelerator assemblies in one case), consultants and trainers still use them as a prime example of lessons learned from the famed “Toyota Production System” (developed by Toyoda).

Perhaps the hardest lesson for us Americans to learn when implementing Lean in our businesses is the long term commitment that it takes to be successful. Instead of always looking for “home runs” we should be happy to get a bunch of singles and doubles that add up over the long haul.

The Supply Chain & Logistics function, as I’ve been pointing out in this blog, is ripe for Lean as its’ costs can range from 50-70+% of sales and therefore a slight improvement in cost and efficiency can have a significant impact on the bottom line and customer value (and is the equivalent bottom line improvement of a fairly large increase in sales, which is extra challenging in today’s world).

So, we need to realize that Lean isn’t a fad and is actually a journey that never ends as it didn’t end at Toyota when Toyoda retired in 1994 and won’t end with his passing the other day.

About the Author

Paul Myerson Blog | Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management

Paul's blog "Lean Supply Chain," has moved. You'll find his latest ideas and commentary on IndustryWeek's IdeaXchange. 

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Paul Myerson is Professor of Practice in Supply Chain Management at Lehigh University. He is the author of a Lean Supply Chain & Logistics Management (McGraw-Hill, 2012), developer of a Windows-based supply chain planning software (, and co-author of a lean supply chain and logistics management simulation training game by ENNA (

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