Andrew Hill:

The innovator who led Toyota insisted that people were as important as the production system.

Eiji Toyoda was the man who taught the world’s production workers Japanese. If you know kaizen means continuous improvement, and use kanban inventory tags to eliminate muda, or waste, then Toyoda, who died recently, was your sensei.

The Toyota Production System he championed as head of the carmaker in the 1970s and 1980s, traces its roots to a fail-safe device devised by Toyoda’s uncle to cope with thread breaks on mechanical looms. Multinationals have since turned its efficiency methods – “lean” production, just-in-time supply chains and outsourcing – into a habit that is woven through the fabric of global production. However, in future, Toyoda’s insights into the power of human initiative will be more relevant.