It was a dark and gloomy fall day in 1986 when Dr. Toyoda, his wife, and Mrs. Togo visited Cincinnati. Irv Miller was the assistant in the region. The plan was for Irv and me to pick up our three guests at the airport and bring them to the regional office where we would introduce Dr. Toyoda to all the associates. Cynthia and Irv’s wife, Karen, would take Mrs. Toyoda and Mrs. Togo on a tour of the city.
Irv and I took Dr. Toyoda on dealer visits to meet the dealers, tour the facilities, and meet the personnel. We had prepared a folder for each dealer detailing performance in sales and customer satisfaction. We had turned the seats around in the Previa van so we would be facing each other, thus making it easier for us to talk as Irv drove. This was a decision I immediately regretted.
It was uncomfortable—in the tight quarters, our knees touched. Dr. Toyoda was in a blue suit, white shirt, and conservative tie. He had a commanding presence about him. He was all business. He kept a steady gaze on me. I fidgeted uneasily. Why did I make such heavy weather out of everything? I tried to relax. I forced a smile and with great solemnity started to discuss the information in the folder about our first dealer at Mike Dever’s Tri-County Toyota. All the visits went well, and it was back to the regional office for a presentation about the region.
After the presentation, it was off to Chester’s Road House where we were to meet the ladies for lunch. On the way, Dr. Toyoda ask me if I played golf. I told him not much because it took too much time to play and, thinking he would agree, that I had too much work to do. He shook his head in disagreement. With delight, he urged me to relax and play more golf.
Years later we would play in the same foursome at a staff meeting golf tournament in Aviara Country Club just north of San Diego. Dr. Toyoda played a solid game of golf—steady, conservative, and consistent, making few mistakes. When he did miss a shot he was able to shake it off and make his next one, whereas I would get upset with myself and sulk, and my game would deteriorate further. But that day I played very well, and our foursome won the tournament. It was the first and only time I won anything at golf. However, I never got the trophy. Dr. Toyoda was concerned that the organizers of the tournament had rigged it so his foursome would win. He wouldn’t allow us to accept our first-place trophies!
Back in Cincinnati, Cynthia and I sat across the table from Dr. Toyoda and his wife during lunch. We talked about Maker’s Mark whiskey, wine, and Christmas. Dr. Toyoda’s face lit up when he pulled out a picture of himself dressed up as Santa Claus for his grandchildren.
Then, talk at the table suddenly turned serious. Dr. Toyoda grimly stated,
“Illingworth-san, you don’t smile enough.”
Cynthia piled on immediately and agreed with the doctor that I should smile more. I mumbled something about needing to play more golf and that I would try to smile more.
The doctor waved his hand at Cynthia and shook his head in disagreement saying, “Oh no. We are alike. I don’t smile enough either. I only smile in one place.”
There was a pause. Dr. Toyoda broke into an ever-widening grin and said, “In the bedroom!”
After all the positive feelings of that day, it would have been hard to believe that in two short years this same Dr. Toyoda would be asking Yuki Togo if I should be fired.
“Watch your words and hold your tongue; you’ll save yourself a lot of grief.” Proverbs 21:25 (MSG)
The single biggest marketing failure of all time is considered to be a new car channel that Ford tried to launch in 1958, the Edsel. The pressure to not repeat the spectacular failure of Ford was ever present.
(To be continued in “Stressed!”)