Although we are half a world apart, I feel a sense of kinship with Katsuaki Watanabe.
Each of us spent yearsentire careers, reallylearning our respective organizations and industries. We were then handed the reins of rapidly growing companies by high-profile bosses viewed as "tough acts to follow." Neither of us is a fan of the status quo; we are both trying to expand by putting customers first and raising the quality and appeal of our products.
In pursuing new vehicle categories, like the environmentally friendly Prius, and growing Toyota's business in the U.S., Watanabe understands that acceptance precedes commercial success. Toyota has invested in local communities, creating jobs and being a good neighbor. NASCAR is proud to be part of Toyota's plans to become part of the American fabric.
In his quest to improve on Toyota's enviable growth and profitability, Watanabe, 62, leans on an extraordinary track record of personal success. Yet he remains humble and willing to learn. Fifty years after the Toyopet Crown reached California, Toyota is the scrappy newcomer again, at least in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, and is learning from Chevrolet, Dodge and Ford. It will find Victory Lane soon enough.
So keep an eye on Toyota under Watanabenot just in NASCAR but in how the company nurtures employees, its brands and the community.
France is CEO of NASCAR, where Toyota now races
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