It was the week of the trial in New York. I was not called to testify, nor did I attend the trial. I was busy in California preparing for the upcoming dealer meeting scheduled for early December when we would show the F1 prototype to the dealers for the first time.
I was called to Yuko Togo’s office. Something was terribly wrong. When I walked in he did not bounce up, greet me with a smile, or offer me a seat on his couch as he usually did. He was grim-faced and motioned with his left hand for me to sit on the simple, hard-back chair next to his desk. He had a letter in his hand.
A strange calm came over me. There seemed to be a hand resting on my right shoulder.
“This is a dark day for Dave Illingworth,” he said. “I have here a letter written to Dr. Toyoda by a member of the Meade Board of Directors. He is not just a member of the board, but a personal friend of the Toyoda family. He speaks Japanese and is a member of the Japanese-American Society in Boston.”
Babson College in Wellesley, Massachusetts is considered to be one of the leading colleges for entrepreneurship in the country. Dr. Toyoda’s son, Akio (who is now President of Toyota Motor Corporation), earned his MBA from Babson. When Akio came to the U.S. to attend Babson, he lived with this man’s family.
Jack Simpson had made a presentation to the Meade Board of Directors about the Lexus lawsuit. The board was questioning the wisdom of such a suit because of the public reaction. Simpson told the board that he believed LexisNexis had given Toyota ample warning to change the name, but that I, the Toyota representative, was arrogant and belligerent, and stubbornly refused to change the name. He told the board he had offered Toyota a reasonable settlement, but that I had walked out. Therefore, LexisNexis had no choice but to go to court.
After that meeting, the Meade board member approached Simpson and mentioned he was a friend of the Toyoda family. Simpson encouraged him to write to Dr. Toyoda about how threatening I was in hopes that Dr. Toyoda would intervene and change the Lexus name.
That was the letter Yuki Togo was holding in his hands. The letter recounted Jack W. Simpson’s description of me in the board meeting. It ended by asking Dr. Toyoda how a family and company of such a high reputation could have someone as “disingenuous and unprofessional as Dave Illingworth representing Toyota.”
Yuki told me that I would be immediately reassigned to another job in Toyota. He went on the say that he and Bob McCurry would try to find me another job outside the company. I would be given 90 days to find a job before I had to leave Toyota.
“Don’t panic. I am with you. There is no need to fear for I’m your God. I’ll give you strength. I’ll help you. I’ll hold you steady, keep a firm grip on you. Count on it: Everyone who had it in for you will end up out in the cold—real losers.” Isaiah 41:10-11 (MSG)
I listened quietly to Yuki. I started to get up to leave, but that invisible hand seemed to push me back down. A voice inside told me to ask to see the letter. I did, and he silently handed me the letter. It read just as Yuki had said, but when I looked at the signature I was in disbelief—Vern Alden.
I looked up at Yuki and said, “Yuki, I know this man. He wouldn’t know me, but I know him. I graduated from Ohio University. He was the president.”
“Call him,” Yuki said, “right now!”
My mind raced back to 1961. The painful memories I had buried long ago came crashing in on me. I was a senior in high school at Linsly Military Institute in Wheeling, West Virginia. After all these years, could this have been the reason I went to Ohio University?
(To be continued in “Why Ohio?”)