September 12: Happy birthday to Eiji Toyoda, the man who made Toyota


In 1950, Henry Ford II invited one of the top executives at a struggling Japanese automaker/textile maker to visit Ford's River Rouge plant for a few weeks as a training exercise. Eiji Toyoda, the nephew of Toyota's founder, knew he had much to learn; Ford was building 8,000 cars a day, while Toyota could only assemble 40. But Toyoda's experience at the Rouge confirmed what he already knew -- that there was a better, more efficient way to build cars, that could avoid Ford's rash of factory-line defects. Upon his return, Toyoda and his lieutenants came up with a series of practices later known as "The Toyota Way," a never-ending chase for efficiency and quality that turned Toyota into the world's largest automaker. Eiji Toyoda would later become chief executive; it was his management that launched Toyota in the United States, came up with the Lexus luxury brand and in 1983 saw him open a joint venture with General Motors in California -- a way to repay Detroit by letting it learn from his company. Toyoda turns 100 today.