Press: Toyotas First Non-japanese Member of Board

By: KatieJones

Jim Press, the top man of Toyota's North American operations, got the approval from shareholders last Friday to become the first non-Japanese member of the automaker's board of directors.

Press, 60, a 37-year Toyota Motor Corp. veteran, was named to the board in April as part of the company's initiative to boost its international standing. The decision comes as the Japanese automaker intends to increase sales in North America and grab a large slice of market share away from Detroit automakers. The increasing success of Toyota in foreign territories especially in the United States has prompted worries about a potential backlash.

The and other auto parts from the automaker are landing on foreign ground with remarkable distinction. This distinction is intended to be safeguarded by eansuring management, production and sales.

Shareholders approved the move last Friday in Toyota city at a nearly two-hour meeting attended by more than 2,500 people, the company said. Lawmakers from manufacturing states have charged the Japanese government has kept the yen artificially low, giving Japanese automakers an advantage.

Yasuaki Iwamoto, an auto analyst with Okasan Securities Co. in Tokyo said that Press' promotion is part Toyota's overall effort to strengthen diversity and empower regional management as the company grows increasingly international. "It's part of Toyota's efforts to become a Japanese company that has roots in America," Iwamoto he said. "It's also a recognition of Mr. Press' achievements, especially the fact that he has truly become a Toyota man."

Former Toyota Chief Executive Hiroshi Okuda said earlier this year that the automaker needs to open up its board to non-Japanese and boost foreign ownership of company shares from about 20 percent today to win greater acceptance as a global company. Press' appointment promotion also stresses the increasing presence of foreigners in the Japanese automakers' senior positions. In the past decades, these positions were exclusively held by the Japanese. In recent years, foreign chief executives have grown more common. The list includes high-profile ones like the Brazilian-born Carlos Ghosn at the Nissan Motor Co.

There is no denying that Press admires Japanese cultural virtues that play a significant factor to the automaker's dominion in the auto industry. It can also be noted that Press is the most visible executive in the U.S. to promote Toyota's product lines that include the Prius hybrid, Camry sedan, and the Lexus luxury models.

Press, as the head of Toyota Motor Sales USA, led swift sales creep from a 9.3 percent market share in the U.S. in 2000 to 13.1 percent in 2005. In 2006, he became the first non-Japanese president of North American arm of the automaker. He oversees sales and engineering divisions as well as 12 manufacturing plants in U.S. and Canada.

The Toyota veteran enjoys scuba diving and flying airplanes. He joined the Japanese automaker's board from 25 to 30 members. He joined Toyota after leaving the Dearborn-based Ford Motor Co.

In the first quarter of this year, the Japanese automaker has beaten, for the first time, General Motors Corp. in worldwide vehicle production and sales. From January to March, Toyota yielded nine percent increase to 440.1 billion yen. GM, meanwhile, made a $62 million net profit in the first quarter. The Detroit-based automaker, which lost US$2 billion in 2006, still lost an adjusted $85 million on its North American operations.

Analysts said that it is just a matter of time before Toyota becomes the world's largest automaker - a title that is technically dependent on total annual vehicle production. Toyota officials repeatedly play down the prospect, saying that their goal is to satisfy customers and sell good cars, not the prestige of becoming number one.

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