Toyota Motor North America’s top U.S. official, Jim Lentz, is retiring next spring after 38 years with the Japanese automaker.
Lentz, 64, is the highest ranking American in the company, hired by current Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda, who sought to add more Western executives to the company, providing a more diverse view for Japan’s largest automaker.
Known for his calm and cool demeanor, he’s had a massive impact on the growth of the company’s North American business, including the creation of the Lexus luxury marque and the Scion brand aimed at younger buyers, seeing the company through the unintended acceleration issue as well as the move of the company’s U.S. headquarters from California to Texas a few years back.
He’s now winding down the company’s consolidation and restructuring of its North American operations and leading its “One Toyota” program designed to improve customer relations and speed up decision making and improve collaboration across the company.
“After finalizing our One Toyota consolidation and laying the groundwork for the future of mobility, now is the time for a new leadership team to take the next steps to help further transform Toyota,” said Lentz in a statement.
He will be succeeded by Tetsuo “Ted” Ogawa, who is currently TMNA’s chief operating officer. Ogawa will report to Didier Leroy, TMNA Vice Chairman and president of business planning and operations, Toyota Motor Corp.
“Jim Lentz has had an incredible impact on our company. He has been an outstanding leader and was instrumental in restructuring the company and bringing together our North American region,” said Ogawa, 60, who has held several executive posts at the automaker he joined in 1984.
“He deserves a lot of credit for all he has accomplished in his many roles around the globe and he will be greatly missed. He leaves a legacy that helped build a stronger, more unified Toyota that is prepared to face the future of mobility, and I am humbled and excited to continue working with the Toyota leadership team to create an even more dynamic and vibrant company.”
Lentz is the latest American executive to leave the automaker, voluntarily or otherwise, to be replaced by a Japanese executive.
About five years ago, the aforementioned Toyoda hired several non-Japanese executives to high-level positions, seeking to diversify the company’s senior ranks. The highest profile of these may have been former public relations chief Julie Hamp, who resigned from the company in the wake of her arrest after a prescription drug was mailed to her from the U.S.
Lentz said decision to choose a lifelong employee and Japanese national over an American or company outsider reflects a desire for continuity, noting that Toyoda wanted his replacement to be a person well versed in Toyota’s U.S. business.
“While he may be Japanese, Ted understands the U.S. market,” Lentz said. “I really don’t see a Japanese influence coming into North American decisions.”