Toyoda’s father, Kiichiro Toyoda, founded Toyota Motor Co. in 1937 hoping to make cars, but the company’s resources were soon diverted to making trucks to support the Japanese war effort.
Its rocky immediate postwar years were marked by financial crises and labor disputes, culminating in 1950 when the company’s creditors forced Kiichiro to resign and the company to split its sales arm and its production operations into two separate companies. The Toyoda family had to step back, ceding management control to outsiders. Kiichiro had planned to return in 1952, but he died that March.
Shoichiro Toyoda joined the company in July 1952 as a board member at the urging of then-President Taizo Ishida, who wanted Toyoda to restore family continuity. But the Toyoda family was absent from the top post at the company until 1967, when Eiji Toyoda, a cousin of Shoichiro’s father, reclaimed control as president.
Shoichiro Toyoda, a personable man with an insatiable curiosity and penchant for golf and motorsports, took the helm as president of the sales company in 1981.
The following year, the sales and production companies merged to form Toyota Motor Corp., with Toyoda as president.
Although Toyoda led the company into new overseas manufacturing ventures and new luxury segments, he typically did so cautiously, testing the waters with a joint venture or a new factory building a proven product.
Insiders often attributed the corporate cautiousness, at least in part, to the trauma of the banks demanding the split of the automaker in half in 1950. Certainly, Toyoda always insisted on a very conservative balance sheet, with massive reserves that effectively meant the automaker would never again have to do its banks’ bidding.
He also worked, sometimes behind the scenes, to ensure his family’s continued influence at the company.
After stepping aside as president, Toyoda was the automaker’s chairman from 1992 until 1999, and he remained on the board until 2009, when his son, Akio Toyoda, took over as president.