Sunday, February 28, 2010

Mr. Toyoda Goes to Washington...

Last week we witnessed an extraordinary event when the President of Toyota Motor Corporation testified in Washington D.C. at a House of Representatives committee hearing. While it is common knowledge that these opportunities give the representatives, yet, another political window to grandstand a bit, it also provides the public a chance to see and hear from top executives that often are seldom seen and heard. I never dreamt that I would see Mr. Akio Toyoda in this venue, much less treated as he was. I understand that everyone has an opinion and different viewpoints, but frankly, I was hurt and embarrassed at the way he was treated. "Guilty!" seemed to be the collective cry of the interviewers! Even though they were there to seek answers and gather facts, they appeared to do nothing more than denounce and belittle any attempt Mr. Toyoda made to testify.

Akio Toyoda

But really..... it's what I expected. Many of our political leaders are only interested in doing the things that promote their own political careers, by stroking the egos and wishes of their constituents - no matter who gets trashed in the process. The line of questioning was so biased it was almost comical - although I know the Japanese at the front table found no humor in it. There were so many comments that were simply inaccurate and lacking a factual basis. As much as the representatives tried to look informed and intelligent regarding the topic, it was clear they were not, and were simply regurgitating comments and information handed to them by their ill-informed staff.

I have met Mr. Toyoda several times. The latest was when he visited our engine plant in Huntsville in May, 2009. He is a charming, intelligent, warm-hearted leader that genuinely cares for Toyota's team members and our customers. When I picked him up at the airport in my Sequoia, I said "Welcome to Alabama, Mr. Toyoda." He said, "Thank you. I came to see your face." We had a wonderful visit with him before he departed for his next stop. But, on the way back to the airport, I asked him to sign a car magazine that one of our team members had given me. He did so, graciously - even writing a personal note!

February 24, 2010 Congressional Hearing

As one of my colleagues noted, "If an American executive, say.... Bill Gates, had to fly to Japan and do the same thing, I know he would have been treated with much more respect and dignity." I tend to agree. I have been to Japan 35 times in the last 22 years. Every time, I have been treated with the highest regard by the most polite people I have ever met - no lie! It doesn't matter if it's a high ranking executive or a taxi cab driver. Try to get high regard and politeness from a taxi cab driver in the U.S. - or from members at a Congressional hearing...

Mr. Toyoda visits Huntsville

Nevertheless, I was so proud of Mr. Toyoda's perseverance and tactfulness. I believe he genuinely represented his worldwide employees very well. After the hearing, he spoke to the many dealers and team members that had traveled to Washington in an effort to show support. Mr. Toyoda had to stop a couple of times as he choked-up while thanking everyone for their support. He said he could really feel it!

The Toyota Corporation is the most honest, dedicated, "customer-first", high integrity company that I have ever seen. Toyota is not perfect, but once we see a problem, we fix it ASAP. We implement countermeasures to ensure it doesn't happen again. There really isn't such a thing as a "Best Practice" because we are always looking for ways to improve everything. We will get better and stronger as a result of the latest recalls. What started out as a public thrashing of the world's #1 automotive company's president, will no doubt come back to haunt the competition in the near future. Be careful what you ask for... Toyota will propel to the next level of Safety, Quality, and transparency like never before seen in this industry.

Maybe I should thank the House committee members for waking us up.... there is a renewed energy and commitment in the company that will no doubt.... Move us Forward!

Read his Op-Ed piece in the WSJ.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Update on the Fam....

Wild, Crazy & Wonderful! Things around our house are quite a bit different from this time last year. Let me give a quick update:

Jordan is scheduled to graduate from Taylor University this May. In early July, he will marry Bethany and begin the next phase of his life. Wedding plans are in full swing, job hunting is heating up, and I'm still putting money into his checking account. It's OK.... but it will be like a pay raise once he finally graduates. I'm really proud of our son, and I look forward to welcoming his lovely bride into our family. He is definitely marrying up!

Caitlin still wears KY!

Caitlin has lived with us in Huntsville since last December. In January, she began taking classes at Calhoun College. She's doing great! Caitlin lived on her own for a while in Lexington and worked at Starbuck's, where she learned the intricacies of coffee-making. Her culinary skills are also quite impressive. But, honestly, I'm sick of watching the litany of Food channels. She would tell you she's tired of me watching sports and news channels. But, it has been a pleasure having her with us. She has helped us around the house, helped baby sit, and is doing well in school. I'm very proud of Cait!

A Million Dollar Smile!

Speaking of baby sitting.... Daniel, Lauren and Savannah (our only grandchild), also moved in with us last December. Having a baby in the house has rocked my world..... after all, it's been 20+ years since this guy has changed diapers. The good point is that there are 4 other capable diaper changers in the house. So, when it's time for a change, I conveniently act like I'm checking an email on my Blackberry. They haven't figured this out yet, so let's keep it a secret... Savvy is a wonderful baby! If all grandchildren are this pleasant, I recommend a bus load of them. She turned 7 months old on the 23rd, and she's starting to get her own personality. She's knows what she wants, when she wants it, and wonders what's taking you so long in giving it to her. She has no teeth yet... she rolls but doesn't crawl... and she and Cody get along famously.

Proud papa!

Lauren is working part-time at a Christian radio station, and Daniel is full-time at Verizon. I don't know how long they'll stay with us, but we are enjoying the season while we have it. I suppose they are still adjusting from life in Sydney, Australia, versus life in Alabama. But, we're glad they are with us and are proud and blessed to have them around.

Tami is busier than ever. She is a discussion leader in BSF (Bible Study Fellowship), prepares a meal and our home every Monday night as we host the Summit Crossing Young Adults, babysits Savannah when Lauren and Daniel are both working, mentors other young women, and takes care of me. For that, I am thankful. She is an extremely giving person who always puts others ahead of herself. Savvy will be an even better young lady by having Tami as her "Gami".

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What Did You Expect?

What did you expect?! Have you ever heard this from someone.... maybe a parent or spouse? Have you ever done something that didn't turn out quite like you expected, only to have someone ask you about it in a tone that screams, "You are such an idiot!"?

Case in point.... When I was in elementary school - maybe about 4th or 5th grade - I spied a small bird perched atop a fence about 50 feet from where I stood. Without much deep thinking, I picked up a dirt clod - maybe a bit smaller than a baseball - and heaved it with all my might toward the bird. It only took a few seconds for my worst fear to be realized. I had hit the bird dead on!! I was horrified! The bird simply fell to the other side of the fence and suddenly my life was over! Honestly, I could have thrown that chunk of dirt 500 times and never hit that bird. Actually, I never knew if I killed the bird or just dazed him - I didn't stay around long enough to find out. I suspect that I ran home, crying to my parents. I also suspect that they asked me the proverbial question: "What do you expect to happen if you throw dirt clods at little defenseless birds?" I'm sure they didn't call me an idiot, but I sure felt like one. I still remember the event to this day.

I suppose we all do things without much thought, only to be surprised at the outcome. Let's face it though, I was aiming at the bird. Is it so strange that I actually hit it? Fast forward to today. Maybe we're not throwing dirt, but we are using words that can do just as much damage. In fact someone once said, "The more dirt you sling, the more ground you lose." Every action generates a reaction. Every time we use words, they will generate some kind of reaction. I need to ensure that I am thinking before I speak.

But there are also times when you are not the clod-thrower, but instead, the bird on the fence. Others can say and/or do things that can impact you either positively or negatively. Maybe it was never their intention to hurt you, but sometimes the clod hits the mark. The impact of someone else's actions can often have long lasting effects on us. Forgiving and forgetting is the recommended solution, most will say.... but, let's face it, it's not that easy. I'll discuss this topic in a future post.... it deserves much deeper attention.

Forty-one years later, I've never hurt another bird! I'm sure I've done plenty of goofy things without thinking, but when it comes to birds, they are off limits! But I've never forgotten the learning point: Don't be surprised at the outcome if you do something without thinking. After all "What do you expect?"

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Haiti: Can We Learn Something?

Devastation, hopelessness, Armageddon, 1000's dead, disease, rubble, why?..... These are only a few of the words you can find in the opening paragraph of most stories describing the state of affairs in Haiti. I can imagine that the video, the pictures, the stories we see and hear out of this country are not truly representative of the actual horror that is really being experienced by the people of this poverty-strickened nation.

Why? I wonder how many locals and people around the world have asked that question. They were struggling to make ends meet even on a good day.... much less after a crushing, devastating earthquake. I have never been to Haiti, but my wife and two daughters have visited several times. They traveled to this island-country on Christian mission trips to build relationships with the Haitians, to work in the orphanage, to teach, and to construct buildings. They fell in love with the people and still communicate with friends even today.

Why would God allow this to happen to the people of the 3rd poorest country on the globe? I don't know. It's the age-old question. Some have stated that God is punishing them because of the strong following that voodoo commands. Some have stated that God is creating an open door for many to see his love through the rescue, relationships, and rebuilding that will surely follow this tragedy. Some have stated that it is surely a random act of nature.

What is our response? Do we even care? Do the tragic reports and pictures really move us to any type of action? It's easy for us to sit in our living rooms and simply turn the channel. If we were actually there, seeing images with our own eyes, we might be motivated more urgently. Tami & I have been supporting a young couple in Northwest Haiti for a while - even before the earthquake. Curtis and Danielle have dedicated their early married lives to the people of Haiti on behalf of God. Now, they are in the middle of the mess. I know they never could have dreamt of this scenario... but there they are! God is giving them the opportunities of a lifetime - like never before!

Most of us have never experienced what the people of Haiti are currently going through. God willing... we never will. But God's ways are not necessarily our ways. There are so many viewpoints that we never consider. I usually think I am a pretty good thinker, but I never think about all of the possibilities. There always might be a better way... a better outcome.... a better long-term result.

So, maybe we should learn from the experience in Haiti, even if it didn't actually happen to us. Let's take someone else's experience and trials and consider how we can apply it to our lives... how we can mature, grow, deepen our own thoughts about life, relationships, and character. Maybe we should learn to be happy with what we have. They have nothing... nothing! We really do have everything compared to the Haitians. Let's stop wanting more and appreciate the excellent lives we currently live - compared to nothing...

My wife says the Haitians are a happy-people. Never complaining about what they do not have. Tami always felt a bit guilty when she would return from Haiti to her life of "excesses" back in the States. It's hard to believe they are still happy after 200,000 - 250,000 people have died, but maybe they have a perspective that we can't even imagine. I suppose so... I only hope that even I can learn from their experience about how important it is to appreciate being alive and loving others, while you can. It could all be gone... and at some point, it all will be....

Check out Northwest Haiti Christian Mission on the web.....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Time to Quit?

Number 57.... this is my 57th blog posting since I began last June. I really never dreamed that I would actually have anything to say... much less say in public via the internet. Thank you to those who have kept up and keep checking back. I've had over 7,200 hits since the beginning.... another unbelievable stat.

But lately, I've been struggling with whether I should continue. Honestly, I've not been very motivated to continue. After thinking about it and talking with a friend (I guess I was Thinking Out Loud), I've come to surmise that I've been very cautious in my writings. I usually write only about "surface" topics. Of course there are times when I write about some special events or subjects. But mostly I have refrained from giving my true opinions regarding "less-safe" topics.

This may be the reason I've lost a bit of motivation.... so, one solution is to stop blogging. Another option is to take the leap and begin to post my true opinions and reactions to topics that, up 'till now, I've purposely avoided. All risk aside, I would blog about topics such as current events, politics, the media, religion, relationships, industry, leadership, etc.

There are specific reasons why I have avoided these subjects, but I've determined that I have also shown a lack of courage in avoiding them. My opinion is just that... my opinion. You may or may not agree. But, for the most part, I really haven't voiced much of my opinion... at least not on subjects of depth. Is it worth the risk? Should I step out and reveal a side of me that has remained below the radar?

If you have a preference, let me know!

Friday, February 12, 2010

Letter to the Editor

This was published in the Sunday, February 7, 2010, edition of the Huntsville Times as my letter to the editor:

First let me apologize for the trouble and concern we have caused our customers with recent recalls. Those affected should be receiving letters soon explaining the steps you should take to allow our dealers to resolve the issues. The remedies are simple, effective and thoroughly tested. Our dealers are working overtime to ensure the job is done fast and right. We know what the problem is, we know how to fix it, and fixes have already begun.

Two core values of The Toyota Way are ensuring we keep our Customers First and that we build Quality and Safety into every process. We are obviously not perfect – but when we see a problem, we fix it as soon as possible. It is fundamental to our Toyota culture.

Even though many media reports have been warranted, please remember that we are trying to do the right thing regarding these recalls. Here in Huntsville, we have always strived to be a good corporate citizen, provide stable employment, and continue to expand our local engine plant. We recently announced an additional 240 jobs and millions of dollars in additional investment. We are very proud of our team members at Toyota.

I understand that this situation for Toyota is rare and may be a much bigger media event than normal. But, I hope the citizens of this community will see through some of the negative press and remember that we are committed to the Customer, committed to our Team Members and committed to this Community.


James T. “Jim” Bolte
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama, Inc.
One Cottonvalley Drive
Huntsville, AL 35810