UK book looks at the Toyota way

UK professor collects stories on automaker's philosophy

ssloan@herald-leader.comOctober 8, 2012 

Marking a first for the automotive giant, Toyota has contributed to a book written by a University of Kentucky professor about its vaunted production system and philosophy.

Author Kozo Saito, director of UK's Institute of Research for Technology Development, said the idea for Seeds of Collaboration: Seeking the Essence of the Toyota Production System was given to him by Toyota global chairman Fujio Cho. Cho led the automaker's Georgetown plant, its flagship factory in North America, from 1988 to 1994.

The company has long collaborated with UK's College of Engineering through such efforts as the Lean Systems Program that Cho helped form in 1994, as well as offering staffers who work as executives in residence. In 2007, Toyota donated $1 million to begin the Institute that Saito leads.

During his travels to Japan, Saito said he met with Cho, who offered him homework of sorts by suggesting the book.

"Each time, he would remind me and ask how the book's coming together," Saito recalled. "I always felt Toyota treated us so nicely and so generously, and I've always been thinking how I can pay them back.

"This is a good way to thank them."

So Saito set off working with colleagues at UK and members of Toyota's staff. The book is a collection of the stories written by a dozen or so contributors, including Glenn Uminger, who serves as Toyota's executive in residence at UK's College of Engineering and director of the Lean Systems Program.

Uminger said it hasn't been uncommon for Toyota to make executives available for book interviews but this is the first time the automaker's staff wrote sections of a work produced by an outside author.

"It's not limited to production. It's about philosophy; it's about getting people to think, challenging themselves," he said, noting those were qualities of Cho's. "It's about challenging them, encouraging them and coaching them."

Uminger said Cho was always dedicated to listening to his employees.

"He would spend half his time just walking around the operation in Georgetown, during his time there, talking to people," he said. "With a very busy schedule, he made that a priority."

Saito said the book is full of details on how the production system can improve day-to-day living.

"The thinking process is important," he said. "Americans only pay attention to the final product, but the Toyota Production System focuses on the process and how we get to that final result."

The first printing of the book has been limited to 100 copies, which were produced by regional publisher Larkspur Press. All have been spoken for by the company and UK, he said.

Saito said there's discussion under way about a mass printing, but it likely wouldn't happen until the end of the year or early 2013.

Scott Sloan: (859) 231-1447. Twitter: @HeraldLeaderBiz.

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