8.13.2008

Toyota Nurtures Its Human Assets

I’ve occasionally written about conferences where some speaker from Toyota stood out – not because he or she was a better speaker than anyone else, but because the focus of the talk was different. For example, other speakers might discuss products, and a Toyota speaker would discuss customers.

The Management Briefing Seminars, an annual high-level automotive conference sponsored by the Center for Automotive Research, is taking place this week in Traverse City, Michigan. I’m not attending this year, but I wasn’t surprised to read this description, by Edward Lapham of Automotive News, of the first day’s remarks:

When Toyota's Steve St. Angelo rattled off the family-oriented benefits that the company's manufacturing arm offers its employees, you knew he got the attention of most of the attendees at this morning's session at the Management Briefing Seminars here in Traverse City.


It's not that anything he said was new or radical. Toyota offers a lot. But some of the benefits, such as child care, have been addressed by the UAW with automakers and suppliers.

It was telling that St. Angelo mentioned them in the same forum in which other manufacturing execs emphasized what they have accomplished by improving quality, boosting efficiency and cutting costs.

The message: Don't forget to nurture your human assets.

In the hallway outside the session, an acquaintance from IBM reminded me that once upon a time -- when IBM was the dominant computer giant -- the company offered its employees a host of family-friendly activities and facilities.

Even though some highly visible female execs are exiting the industry for opportunities elsewhere, there still were many women in this morning's crowd because more women are moving into key positions in the U.S. auto industry.

By the way, Dave Cole, Lisa Hart and the rest of the team from the Center for Automotive Research get kudos for having 10 female speakers on the agenda.

Monitoring the number of women on the program is something I do regularly. But, anecdotally, it seems like the most ever -- or at least the most in several years.

Because Traverse City and the Grand Traverse Resort are family-friendly, many speakers and attendees bring their families, which can be problematic if your spouse doesn't come to handle child care. I spoke with one female exec whose parents are here to help take care of her three small children.

The message: Don't forget to nurture your human assets.

Those of us who blog about lean often comment that too many companies try to become lean without including the critical lean principle of respect for people. It seems Steve St. Angelo of Toyota drove that point home one more time.

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