Two weeks after being arrested for allegedly importing prescription drugs into Japan, Toyota Motor Co.’s global public relations director – and its top female executive – has resigned.
Julie Hamp remains in jail, according to reports from Japan where the law allows police to detain a suspect for up to 23 days without bringing charges.
In a statement, the world’s largest automaker said that it has “accepted her resignation after considering the concerns and inconvenience that recent events have caused our stakeholders.”
There had been some question about whether Hamp would have been able to survive the crisis — even if she were eventually cleared – in a country where “face” is highly valued. Complicating matters, according to some observers, was the fact that Hamp was a female in a traditionally male society that had only cautiously welcomed her into the top Toyota spot.
She did appear to have the support of Toyota’s top executive, however, President Akio Toyoda last month holding a news conference in which he shifted blame to himself. Toyoda described Hamp as a “close friend,” and an “invaluable” asset, and said he did not believe she intentionally violated Japanese law.
“To me, executives and staff who are my direct reports are like my children,” he said. “It’s the responsibility of a parent to protect his children and, if a child causes problems, it’s also a parent’s responsibility to apologize.”
(For more on Toyoda’s press conference, Click Here.)
Specific details remain unclear, the carmaker today stating that, “Because the investigation of Ms. Hamp is ongoing, there is little Toyota can say at this time.”
Hamp was arrested on June 18th for importing the narcotic pain killer oxycodin into Japan. The island nation has extremely strict anti-drug laws and restricts many pills routinely prescribed in other countries. Reports following her arrest indicate Hamp had placed the drugs inside a box of jewelry she shipped to herself from the United States.
On June 23rd, authorities ramped up their investigation by raiding Toyota offices at the company’s Toyota City headquarters, as well as offices in Tokyo and Nagoya.
(For more on the police raid, Click Here.)
Hamp has not yet been formally charged and it is unclear at what level Toyota might be trying to assist in the case. But some reports suggest that if formally prosecuted she could face up to 10 years in prison.
For its part, Toyota now seems to be trying to put at least some distance between itself and Hamp, stating “we intend to learn from this incident to help ensure a secure working environment for everyone at Toyota around the world as we continue to take the steps necessary to become a truly global company.”
Noting that it “remain(s) firmly committed to putting the right people in the right places,” Toyota said Senior Managing Officer Shigeru Hayakawa will take over Hamp’s duties temporarily.
The brouhaha could turn into backlash against Toyota Pres. Toyoda’s attempt to diversify the carmaker’s traditionally Japanese corporate culture. While Hamp was the only senior woman among top management, Toyota has been expanding the role of foreigners. American Mark Hogan several years ago became the first board member. And Jim Lentz, long the head of U.S. sales operations is now a regional director with broad authority over matters ranging from vehicle development to manufacturing.
Hamp joined Toyota Motor North America, Inc. in 2012 as group vice president and chief communications officer. She was promoted to her current position as chief communications officer and a managing officer of the company in April.
Before joining Toyota, she was executive vice present and chief communications officer at PepsiCo. Prior to that, Hamp held a variety of communications posts at General Motors for two decades, including vice president at the end of her tenure when she was under consideration for the top communications post at GM.
(Toyota sets new industry benchmark with launch of Mirai hydrogen car. Click Here for more.)