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#57 – My Secret

by | Nov 17, 2016




I knew better than to go see Bob McCurry and tell him I wanted the job of leading the Lexus Division. Bob would have thrown me out of his office. I talked myself into showing some inner courage and went unannounced to Yuki Togo’s office. I told Yuki that whatever he decided I would give him a 110% effort, but if he gave me the chance to run Lexus I wouldn’t let him down. He gave me no indication of what was going to happen. I got the sinking feeling I had made a mistake and the decision had already been made.


I was uniquely qualified to lead Lexus. I knew all the senior mangers in Japan, including Chairman Eiji Toyoda, and understood the passion and purpose driving the division. I had been in the division from the start and personally knew the chief engineer and chief designer, and I was well versed on the product. I knew the plant manager at Tahara and was familiar with the efforts being made at the plant to produce the highest quality product Toyota had ever made. I had been involved in the hiring of all the people working in the division in the U.S. I had participated in the selection of the advertising agency and knew the marketing plan that was being developed to introduce the division. I was heavily involved with the customer satisfaction, data systems, and service guidelines that were being developed to set Lexus apart for all others in customer care. I had participated in the selection of every dealer and was the only person in Toyota who personally knew every dealer, including the non-Toyota dealers.


In short, I knew Lexus like no one else, from top to bottom and inside out.


Bob McCurry called me into his office to give me the news. It was short and sweet. “You’re it,” Bob said. “You earned it, but you’ve got a lot to do.” There were no congratulations or small talk, nor did I expect any. I silently told myself not to get overly gushy with thanks, but simply replied, “You won’t regret it.” Yuki Togo and the Japan staff never said anything to me about the promotion. It was understood. This was business, not a social club, and there was lot to do. Next man up—do your job.


I called Cynthia to tell her the news. Her reaction was a mixture of pleasant surprise and impending dread. We both knew the pressure for her to keep things running at home with five children would be every bit as much as the pressure on me at Lexus. She asked, “When will you be home?” I answered, “I don’t know.”


On Thursday, January 26, Toyota announced that I had been named general manager of its new luxury division, without using the name. The Detroit News dryly noted the following day, “Toyota on Thursday named J. Davis Illingworth as General Manager of its __ __ __ __ luxury car division.”


Maybe I was too young, too quiet, and too inexperienced. Maybe this was impossible. But I knew something no one else knew. I had a secret. Lexus was going to change the automobile business.


“David reached into his pocket for a stone, slung it, and hit the Philistine hard in the forehead, embedding the stone deeply. The Philistine crashed, facedown in the dirt.” 1 Samuel 17:48-49 (MSG)


In the spring of 1989, a group of us met with at the Toyota World Headquarters in Nagoya, Japan to talk to the chairman about Lexus. The passion and purpose for Lexus was no more evident than in Eiji Toyoda, chairman of the board.


(To be continued in “My Only Son”)