A lot of companies like to think of themselves as more than a business. They call themselves a team, a community, or even a family. This is what people think about when they describe a meaningful work culture, yet few companies can back up these claims with any hard evidence. The concepts are, after all, very subjective. So, when I tell you that Toyota is a city, you might look at it as just so much figurative fluff. Here’s the thing though; there actually is a Toyota City in Japan’s Aichi Prefecture. Literally. It’s a city named after the car company.
This is the type of thing you can’t experience by sitting in your office and reading about Lean. To experience the effect that one company can have on a community of over 400,000 people, you have to venture out on a Lean Japan Trip. The impact of Lean transformations is not just a matter of dollars and cents, or even yen for that matter. The true value of Lean and Kaizen is the effect it has on people’s lives. Toyota has known this for a long time.
It’s only been decades since Toyota City was known as Koromo (Doesn’t sound much like “Toyota”, does it?). In the 1930’s, the Toyoda family (That sounds more familiar) were trying to expand their business beyond the automated looms they had been known for up until that point. They took the risky move to enter the automotive industry – not something Japan was known for at the time. How things have changed! The Toyoda’s built the first Toyota plant in Koromo, and the rest is history. Toyota became Koromo’s biggest employer as the company and the city grew. So great was the impact of this single car company, that Koromo officially changed its name to Toyota City in 1959. Through the ups and downs of recessions and war, this is where the legendary Toyota Production System (TPS) was born.
So, if a Toyota employee ever tells you that Toyota is a city, they aren’t sensationalizing anything. Don’t believe us? See for yourself on a Lean Japan Trip complete with guided tours. Cities are made of people, and so are Lean companies. When these two elements come together, amazing things can happen. Kaizen doesn’t just mean continuous improvement for a business’s bottom-line. It means building communities through employment, training, and success. In Japan’s Lean organizations, “company culture” isn’t just an idea; it’s a business model.