Friday, February 22, 2008

Bob Field: Doing it the Toyota Way

Last Saturday was a very special night. The New Zealand Toyota Dealers were all assembled in Auckland to celebrate 20 consecutive years of market leadership. It was also to mark the retirement of legendary Toyota New Zealand CEO, Bob Field.

The farewell dinner was held in Auckland’s historic Civic Theater, a beautiful art deco building in the classic tradition. The dealers were all assembled in the auditorium and Bob was on stage about to make his farewell speech to mark his retirement. Everything was going to plan when Bob’s sound went off and the lights went out. Having been in a similar position a few times, I can imagine how he felt. A couple of spotlights sparked up slowly on stage and Bob looked around to see New Zealand’s Bob Parker ready with a This is Your Life presentation.

For the next hour and half, Bob was regaled with tales from friends, partners and family. I was “the surprise guest” from New York and attended courtesy of a satellite hookup to my New York office - complete with satellite delays, technical interference, etc. At which point I threw up my hands and said that since at Saatchi we believe that 'Nothing is Impossible' and at Toyota we believe in 'Moving Forward', something had to be done. To Bob’s and the audience’s astonishment, I stormed out of my office in New York and, of course, entered onto the stage at the Civic Theater. Rowena was in L.A. for the Grammy’s with Ben, Dan and Rebecca so my date for the evening was my mother-in-law, Rita. She had a ball and, of course, Toyota being one big family, she was made to feel completely at home. Bob’s grandson and family all flew up from the South Island. I can tell you a great time was had by all. Alistair Davis, the new CEO, spoke about having worked for Bob for more than a decade and finally having got one over him. Gary McIver and the marketing team pulled it all together with guests that included Sir Ron Trotter, Scotty of the famous Crumpy and Scotty commercials and America’s Cup hero, Grant Dalton.

Bob has been an awesome leader and has been responsible for making Toyota the most loved company in New Zealand. That was no easy task with Toyota being Japanese to its core. The kicker is that Bob is a Kiwi to the core and it was him, of all executives around the world, who embraced our 1997 idea of 'Toyota Every Day' and 'Everyday People'. In fact, 10 years on, New Zealand is still running the 'Everyday People' campaign and still making fantastic local commercials like Bugger and Bulls. Bob has moved mountains to make Toyota #1 in New Zealand for every year of the last 20 (that’s what I call Sustainable Peak Performance). He has elevated New Zealand in the Toyota Worldwide hierarchy to a position way above its weight. Bob is also one of the most inspirational leaders our country has known and it was wonderful to be able to share such a great occasion with his friends, colleagues, dealers and family.

Although Bob will retire from the CEO role he will continue to provide counsel, guidance and perspective as Chairman of Toyota New Zealand. I also know he has briefed Alistair for another 30 years of market leadership. I also know Bob’s anxious to come back to the next shindig in 30 years time when he’s 90 to celebrate 50 years market leadership. I wouldn’t expect less - that’s the Toyota Way.