Vern Alden was going to be in Portland, Oregon the week after I contacted him. Mike Shuler, an Ohio University graduate, was the coach of the Portland Trail Blazers and Alden was going to attend their game against the Los Angeles Clippers. Yuki Togo asked Yale Gieszl, then senior vice president of administration, to accompany me to the meeting.
We were to meet Alden the following morning after the Clippers game at the Portland Athletic Club in a conference room. We had coffee, fruit, and pastries delivered to the room.
We spent a few moments talking about my years at Ohio and how much I enjoyed them, particularly the visit President Lyndon Johnson made to the campus in 1964 to introduce “The Great Society.”
I went on to explain the frustration Toyota was having in understanding why LexisNexis was pursuing the lawsuit over our name, given it was a made-up name that was spelled differently, not to mention that Lexus was a car with no chance of causing any consumer confusion.
Alden listened carefully and admitted it was curious that LexisNexis was objecting, but explained that as a board member he supported the lawsuit. He recounted his discussion with Jack Simpson after the board meeting and went on to add that it was the board’s understanding that Toyota had been offered a reasonable settlement and refused to accept it. I asked if the board was told what that reasonable settlement offer was. Vern Alden admitted that they had not, but had assumed it was fair.
I explained the settlement offer that Jack Simpson had presented to Jim Perkins and myself. All Lexus television, radio, and print advertising was to devote 25% of its time or space to LexisNexis to avoid consumer confusion.
Alden shook his head and remarked, “That’s not possible. That couldn’t possibly work.”
He looked over to Yale Gieszl and asked if this was true. Yale verified I was telling the truth, adding that because of the naming dispute with LexisNexis and Alden’s letter to Dr. Toyoda, I had been given a 90-day notice.
Looking dismayed, Alden sat back in his chair, shook his head, and stated that he would immediately write a retraction letter to Dr. Toyoda.
An unexpected rush of relief swept through me. I had been saved—but not by my own doing.
Soon after that, I was invited by Ohio University to serve on the Foundation Board of Trustees. Cynthia and I visited the campus every fall and spring for the next five years. I have since discovered that Ohio University is a much better school than I remembered, and I’m very fortunate to have gone there.
Was it dumb luck or what? It would be easy to shrug my shoulders and dismiss this string of events as coincidence or dumb luck. That would make it easy to explain away. However, what about the “or what?” What if this was all part of God’s plan for my life? That would be hard to ignore, and it would have far-reaching ramifications. It would mean that the Creator of all things seen and unseen is a personal God who cares about me. The idea that God could have anticipated over 25 years ago that this would happen to me is unsettling and hard to comprehend.
It would mean that the God of the universe is actively involved in my life and has a plan and purpose for me. It means that this God has been watching over me and has been relentlessly pushing me out of my comfort zone all my life. Why else would I be writing about the start of Lexus, exposing all of my doubts, fears, and weaknesses? The thought that the God of the universe is involved in my life is humbling, comforting, but also terrifying. He has a plan for all of us—and He wants us to surrender to Him. Read more about His love for us in the God of Hope book.
“Jesus asked, ‘What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.’” Matthew 10:29-31 (MSG)
I still had a job, but Lexus still didn’t have a name. Meanwhile, all the dealers were excitedly waiting to see the new LS400 and ES250 for the first time at the Calty design studio in California.
(To be continued in “Dealers See the Cars”)