After Jim Perkins left and before the naming issue had been resolved, I went to Japan for a week along with the Lexus Japan staff coordinator, some of the Lexus marketing staff, and Team One Advertising executives Scott Gilbert and Tom Cordner. We were to meet with all the TMC managers and engineers to discuss all aspects of the LS400 and ES250 product.
At the end of the week we were to have a private meeting with the Chairman Eiji Toyoda. We were limited to five questions for the chairman to answer, and the meeting was to be largely ceremonial.
A question in English will take 15 to 30 seconds to ask, but because of the complexity of the Japanese language the translation of a question into Japanese and its answers back to English is very time-consuming. Because of his tight schedule, the chairman was to be advised of our five questions ahead of time and his answers carefully scripted so the meeting would last exactly 30 minutes. The meeting was to start at 5:00 and end promptly at 5:30. Five minutes were allotted for introductions. I was to ask the first question at 5:05, and it was to be answered by 5:10. Each of the following questions was to be asked and answered in five-minute intervals with the fifth question being asked at 5:25 and answered by 5:30.
The five questions I was to ask were simple and approved by the Japan staff:
- Why did you decide to do F1?
- When did you decide to start the F1 project?
- Have you driven the F1 product?
- Are you satisfied with the F1 product?
- Are you satisfied with the progress for launching the F1 in the United States?
The chairman walked into the room. He was smiling and had a pleasant countenance about him that put everyone at ease. He walked around the room, and I introduced him to all of the American staff.
We sat down, and I asked my first question right on schedule. I was only faintly aware that the chairman’s answer back seemed too quick. I asked my second and third questions. His answers were only few words. I felt a twinge of alarm. I thought this was all pre-planned and his answers scripted. I asked my fourth question. The chairman seemed bored and answered quickly. I glanced at my watch. Now I was alarmed! We were way ahead of schedule! It was 5:15, and I had only one more question to ask. I asked my final question and leaned over to the Japan staff coordinator next to me, whispering frantically, “What should I do?”
He whispered back, “Ask another question.”
I froze. The room was starting to get tense as both the Americans and Japanese in the room realized this was not going as planned. I smiled nervously and shot a desperate glance at Scott Gilbert and Tom Cordner down at the end of the table. They knew immediately there was a problem. They got together and scribbled a note on a piece of paper and had it passed down to me. It was a sixth question.
It was 5:20. Eiji Toyoda seemed to know I was struggling. He showed no irritation with me but smiled and waited patiently. I sensed he wanted me to ask him something meaningful. I looked down at the scribbled note from Scott and Tom and asked the chairman, “If you could hand the keys to the customer who bought the first F1, what would you say to him or her?”
Mr. Toyoda’s eyes lit up with delight. He started speaking rapidly and with great passion. The room came alive. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but I knew it was coming from every fiber of his heart, mind, and soul. I was transfixed. He talked until 5:30. The Japanese translator, aware we were out of time, quickly translated his ten minutes of Japanese into a few words of English and said only, “I would ask the customer to treat this car as if it was my only son.”
The meeting was over, and the chairman left. The Japan staff came running up to me afterwards exclaiming, “Dave-san, Dave-san the translator didn’t get it right. The Chairman said so much more and meant so much more.” They were truly inspired by his words. I have read other accounts of how the chairman referred to the F1 as “a cherished child” and “a precious child” but on this occasion the translator said the chairman referred to F1 as “my only son.”
I believe the translator got it right and captured the depth of feeling and emotion Eiji Toyoda had for the F1 car with those three English words, “my only son.”
God’s only son died to save the world. Learn more about His sacrifice and God’s plan in the God of Hope book.
“Good-tempered leaders invigorate lives; they’re like spring rain and sunshine.” Proverbs 16:15 (MSG)
The passion we experienced that week behind the development of the F1 that was so evident in Eiji Toyoda, Dr. Toyoda, and every engineer working on the F1 would give birth to the advertising theme line that would propel Lexus for the coming 25 years.
(To be continued in “The Relentless Pursuit of Perfection”)