Toyota was slow to respond to the problem of unintended acceleration. But one of the positive moves the company has made since fully acknowledging the problem — and the threat to its reputation — was the very public apology CEO Akio Toyoda made to the US Congress, to the Chinese government and to the Japanese people at a news conference.
This apology was a good step for several reasons. Mr. Toyoda expressed genuine regret for the loss of life. He even cried at the Japanese news conference. People are more likely to forgive a corporation whose leaders acknowledge the suffering caused by a failure of equipment or actions of their employees.
Another strong aspect of the appearance in Congress was that the CEO referred to the company's core values, which are safety, quality and volume. "We may have grown too quickly," Toyoda told the lawmakers.
Toyoda said he is an engineer and the company had made structural changes in their processes to make sure customer complaints reached the highest levels in the company.
So the Toyota CEO invoked three essentials to a "good" apology:
* Expressing regret for the damage caused by defective products
* Invoking core values and ackowledging where the company had fallen short
* Describing concrete steps for correcting these errors.
The company has also become far more active in social media, growing its Facebook fans exponentially in recent weeks.
These steps help restore credibility to a company that had a stellar reputation but whose initial reluctance to confront the problem caused serious doubts among Americans and customers in other nations.
All the efforts Toyota is making are important — but the CEO's visible stance to take responsibility and make changes is perhaps the most important of all. Especially when the CEO's name embodies the brand.