July 13, 2024

Brighton Journal

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Investor support for Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda has declined

Investor support for Toyota Chairman Akio Toyoda has declined

Investor support for Toyota Motor Co.’s longtime leader, Akio Toyoda, fell to its lowest level since he took office, as shareholders challenged the extent of control he exercises over the company.

According to a report released on Wednesday, 71.9 percent of shareholders supported the renomination of Mr. Toyoda as chairman of Toyota. That met the minimum requirement for re-election, but was the lowest level of support for him since at least 2010, after Toyoda’s first full year as CEO.

“In the context of Japanese companies, it’s a surprising number,” Hirotaka Uchida, a partner at consulting firm Arthur D. Little, said of the vote to renominate Toyoda. Shareholders want to see changes made to Toyota’s management and the level of influence Mr. Toyoda has within the company, he said: “That has become quite clear.”

Traditionally in Japan, board members receive nearly unanimous support from shareholders, and Mr. Toyoda, whose grandfather founded the company, has averaged approval of more than 96 percent over the past decade. But this national trend has begun to change in recent years, with more investors using their voices to pressure companies to enhance profitability and corporate governance.

Ahead of Toyota’s shareholder meeting on Tuesday, The New York Times reported that several major investors planned to vote against Mr. Toyoda’s reappointment. They wondered whether recent issues with mishandling of vehicle tests might indicate broader governance problems within Toyota, including inadequate checks and balances related to management.

“Toyota shareholders have now sent a strong signal that better management is needed at the highest levels of the company,” said Anders Schild, chief investment officer at Danish investment fund AkademikerPension. “We share the concerns expressed and expect the Chairman to consider the best interests of the company when deciding on his next move.”

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Mr. Uchida of Arthur D. Little said there was very little chance that this year’s low approval rating would lead to something as big as Mr. Toyoda stepping down. “But this may mean that he is taking a step back, at least from public opinion,” he added.

During Toyota’s annual meeting at its headquarters in Toyota City, southwest of Tokyo, Mr. Toyoda defended his active role within the company. He said he would be responsible for addressing the problems within Toyota that led to its violation of vehicle licensing tests.

Mr. Toyoda’s comments reflected his unwavering view of himself as a leader. Having led Toyota through many challenges during his nearly 14-year tenure at the top, he continues to act as a “rear guard,” protecting the company from setbacks so others can. Forward momentum can be maintained.

According to figures released on Wednesday, 95.4% of shareholders voted for Koji Sato, who took over as CEO from Toyoda last year. This was slightly lower than last year’s figure, 96.8 percent.

Toyota said in a statement that it is working to strengthen its governance practices, clarified the roles and expectations of its executives, and redefined how directors’ independence is evaluated.

“We view the approval ratings at this year’s shareholder meeting as candid feedback from institutional investors,” Toyota said. “Going forward, we will continue to value dialogue with our stakeholders, take their feedback into consideration and address it honestly.”