Tony Wallis is Director of Toyota Material Handling in the United Kingdom. In this interview, he touches on some of the key ideas behind the company’s success.

Tony Wallis

Tony Wallis

LMJ: The Toyota Way is still the number one model for companies who are interested in implementing lean. How do you think the perception of the company has changed over the years?

Tony Wallis: Despite a number of challenges in recent years, where the DNA of the organisation has been tested following the exposure to one of the world’s most devastating natural disasters, the perception of the brand has actually strengthened thanks to the organisation’s ability to adapt and to its can-do attitude. The core values of the business, underpinned by continuous improvement, continue to fortify the brand as a world leader in manufacturing and as strong as ever in the public arena.

LMJ: Some argue that the problems the company experienced after the tsunami and then the recall crisis raised questions over Toyota’s understanding of its supply chain and attention to quality. The company’s reaction has, however, showed once again how unique its focus on customers is. What lessons has Toyota learned from that experience?

TW: At Toyota we have five values that drive the way we operate. When any part of our business is tested or challenged we embrace our values and go to the source to understand how to solve the issue. We learn from success and the challenges we face. Experience tells us that anything we do today will never be good enough for tomorrow. We have learned in recent events that the DNA of our business is at its strongest when we are faced with the unknown.

LMJ: In a lean implementation, tools can only go so far. It’s the culture that needs to change in an organisation that wants to improve. How does Toyota provide for the creation of a culture of continuous improvement? Would you agree with the idea that it does it by continuously developing its people?

TW: TPS (the Toyota Production System) drives every area of our business, but I would say it also stands for a “Thinking People System”. I think this reflects our culture very well. By providing an environment where people can think, are challenged and can eventually take control of their development, Toyota makes continuous improvement its way of life rather than training programmes.

LMJ: Do cross-functional and cross-departmental collaboration and communication flow help with the creation of a different culture?

TW: Without a doubt, divisional silos reduce business efficiency. Creating cross-functional collaboration is critical to the success of Toyota.