A Leader For All Times: TMP Head Okamoto to Step Down at Year End

After being scuttled for a few years on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) once again staged its traditional “Roadtrek” for members of the media last June – this one happening in Bohol. I recall that trip as a significant one for the marque for several reasons. TMP staged two previews – of the Toyota Xenix (which was expected) and Toyota Yaris Cross (a pleasant surprise). It was also the first Roadtrek for TMP President Atsuhiro “Hiro” Okamoto. 

As things would shake out, it would prove to be his last as well.

Last week, Okamoto himself dropped the bombshell during the traditional TMP Christmas lunch with the media: He will be stepping down from his post at the end of 2023. To be honest, we had gotten a whiff of that piece of news, but it still was a bit of a shock to hear it from the man himself. 

TMP Chairman Alfred Ty with Okamoto and TMP’s Sherwin Chualim in Buriram, Thailand last year.

To be clear, there’s no drama surrounding the departure. It’s just a matter of how Toyota does its assignments. The usual term can last a minimum of three years, and Okamoto has been at it for almost four.

And it’s no hyperbole to say that it’s been an extraordinary run for Okamoto-san. First assuming the role in 2020, his term has been marked by extreme highs and lows – resulting in a leadership and organization forged in fire – in one case, quite literally. 

Things started swimmingly, and posts from the executive’s official FB page (TMP President’s Office/Hiro Okamoto) showed the eagerness with which he approached the position. Posted with a number of photos showing him trying out the country’s modes of transportation, Okamoto wrote: “During my first week in the Philippines, I decided to do genchi genbutsu, or to ‘go and see’ the daily struggles of Filipino commuters. I rode a bus, took a round trip of the MRT, rode the jeepney, queued for a long time to ride the UV Express, and lastly, took a tricycle ride to Tondo! For me, it’s a good learning experience. I realize that unlike Japan or Singapore, the Philippines’ current mass transport system is not enough to accommodate the huge number of daily commuters. I would like Toyota to take part in this big challenge to upgrade the quality of life for many Filipinos.”

Barely getting his feet wet here, Hiro was then quite rudely welcomed by, of all things, the Taal Volcano, which saw one of its more massive eruptions in January that year – scattering ashes over the Calabarzon Region, Metro Manila, and parts of Central Luzon and Ilocos. The work at TMP’s production facility in Sta. Rosa Laguna was disrupted, and even completed units on the inventory had to be meticulously cleaned of ashfall. 

Thumbs up for Okamoto and Lexus Manila Chairman Vince Socco at the GR Vios Cup.

But absolutely no one could have seen the crisis still about to come: the COVID-19 pandemic. Navigating this unprecedented challenge was a task that could have daunted anyone, but Okamoto, his management team, and the network of dealerships took it on with an unflinching resolve – while extending TMP reign as perennial triple crown holder (leading the country in overall vehicle sales, passenger car sales, and commercial vehicle sales). 

When all was said and done at the end of last year, TMP had continued with its run of success – marking 21 straight years since annexing (and never letting go) of the aforementioned sales title.

Rocking TMP’s media thanksgiving party.

This year, TMP is set to add to the trophy cabinet. Per the November 2023 report of the Chamber of Automotive Manufacturers of the Philippines, Incorporated (CAMPI), TMP registered sales of 180,480 units, an uptick of 15 percent versus the same period last year. Toyota cornered 46.2 percent of the local market YTD, and its November sales figure (18,251 units) accounts for an even higher 48.43 percent of vehicles sold last month.

“I am very encouraged that the Philippine automotive market will finally break through pre-COVID levels. Estimates place the market at 420,000 units versus 410,035 in 2019. This is a very significant growth of 20.6% versus sales in 2022,” remarked TMP Chairman Alfred V. Ty at the media lunch. “Just as the World Health Organization officially declared the COVID global health emergency to be over this year, so, too, can we declare that the auto industry is now fully recovered from the pandemic.”

TMP came out of the crucible of the pandemic cornering half of the Philippine market – and remains well positioned to realize even further growth in 2024. It’s been confirmed that the company is girding to produce the next-generation Tamaraw utility vehicle next year, which will be built upon Toyota’s now-popular IMV 0 platform. “This will be a game-changer for us in 2024 and it will signal a new era in mobility for Filipinos, especially our MSMEs. It is also a very significant step for us in our mission of strengthening local manufacturing and helping in nation building. We are very encouraged that the Philippines was designated by Toyota to be a production base for the IMV-0. It is a vote of confidence in the quality of our local production and the competitiveness of our Sta. Rosa operations,” added Ty.

Okamoto, who will be succeeded by current senior vice president Masando Hashimoto, will go back to Japan – to the Toyota Motor Corporation offices in Nagoya, the city where his family lives. 

An economics graduate of the Keio University in Tokyo, Hiro has more than three decades of cumulative experience in both the Lexus and Toyota brands, having joined TMC in 1992. According to the GT Capital Holdings 2022 Integrated Report, he was tapped in 2012 as department general manager of the Lexus Planning Division. Three years later, he found himself seconded to Toyota Motor Asia Pacific (TMAP) as vice president for marketing and sales. Immediately before his posting at TMP, he was EVP at TMAP.

“One thing I’ve learned in the Philippines is that Christmas starts very, very early,” Okamoto said in his speech at the media lunch. He described 2023 as a “very unforgettable year,” noting the return of TMP’s media programs, drives, and, yes, even the customary delegation to Japan to cover the Tokyo Motor Show (now Japan Mobility Show).

Launching the Toyota Yaris Cross with (from left) TMP EVP Jing Atienza, TMP Vice Chairman Dr. David Go, and TMP SVP Masando Hashimoto (who will succeed Okamoto as president). 

This year has been a very special, and busy one, for TMP – highlighted by its 35th anniversary, the GR Festival (attended by no less than TMC Chairman Akio Toyoda himself), and many notable launches and events.

As the global message of Toyota stresses its efforts toward, one of Okamoto’s fitting last milestones is TMP’s signing of a retail supply contract (RSC) with a local supplier to provide green-backed electricity for its plant operations. “Such a move allows TMP to achieve 100% renewable energy (RE) ratio by supplying approximately 90% of the company’s total electricity requirement, complementing the rest of RE sourced onsite from an existing 1.46-megawatt rooftop solar power system,” the company said in a release. “Team (Philippines) Energy Corporation – the retail electricity supplier – will commence its supply to TMP on December 26, 2023. Based on the RSC, every megawatt hour will be backed by an International Renewable Energy Certificate or I-REC(E), which verifies its sourcing from a domestic RE plant.”

Domo arigatou gozaimasu, Okamoto-san. Good luck and Godspeed!

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