Bob Daly’s Final Act

Toyota’s longtime executive is heading out the door, but not after finishing up one important piece of business

April 19, 2017
Last Stand -- Toyota Senior Vice President Bob Daly was instrumental in moving Toyota to Plano. Now, in likely his final act of duty, he'll work on selling our properties in Torrance and Erlanger.

It’s been just about 32 years since Bob Daly came to Toyota in 1985. One of his first major projects was helping to launch Lexus. His last? Playing a key role in Toyota’s move to Plano. For his final act, the senior vice president will oversee the selling of Toyota’s campuses in Torrance and Erlanger. So when it comes to major changes in the company, Daly always seems to be a major player.
 
As Daly heads toward retirement later this year, we sit down with him and pick his brain about why he loves Toyota, and what we as team members can do to make the next 32 years as good as the last 32 years.
 
Driver’s Seat: Thank you for your time today. I really appreciate it. I know that you're a very busy man.
 
Bob Daly: Happy to do it. But it'll be more a retrospective than a prospective. I'm not making any campaign promises for the future.
 
You've had a storied career here for nearly 32 years. What stands out about your time at Toyota?
 
What stands out is what a strong and incredible company this is. When I joined we were just cracking the million-unit sales level per year, we had one brand, and we were very much a Japanese company selling cars in the United States. It's been great to watch the company become an American company, a strong global company with major success in the United States.
 
 
How did you get your start?
 
Originally I started at a dealership when I was in high school. After law school I joined Ford. Then I went to the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA). But it was a great move for me to wind up at Toyota.
 
I feel very fortunate that I had an opportunity to join Toyota and participate in the growth. Not only has Toyota become a major icon in the market, but it's a very sophisticated company in North America now.
 
What made you jump at that opportunity to join Toyota, especially at that time? That's a challenging move to go to a Japanese automaker in the 1980s.
 
NADA was a very exciting experience, and it was particularly great because it was an opportunity at a very young age to get involved in a whole lot of things. It was the time of Lee Iacocca moving over from Ford to Chrysler to save it. But I had reached the point where I had kind of done what there was to do at NADA. I had gotten to know the Toyota folks, and they were good enough to invite me aboard as they were expanding the Washington office, so that's how I started.
 
Over the years, I really have never had a time when I wasn't proud of the company. It's not been a completely smooth ride. We've certainly had major political issues with trade debates, we've had the very unfortunate unintended acceleration experience, and we've had a lot of competition. But I've always been proud and impressed with the way the company has handled that. The company is a very tough competitor, but it's a classy competitor.
 
What philosophy guides how you do your job?
 
One of the things that my upcoming retirement will do for a lot of people is relieve them of listening to the same speech that I've been giving for at least 25 years.
 
I haven't heard it yet.
 
It's the “CLEAR” speech. If you look at anything – whether it's one of our products, it's one of our people, it's an idea, it's an organizational structure – there are five drivers of success that you have to have. But you need all five of them. If even one is missing, the likelihood is you're not going to be successful. The word “CLEAR” is an acronym.
 
The C is competence. It's just that. You need to be able to do what needs to get done.
 
The L is leadership, and that's a two way street. If you're a leader, you've got to make it really clear what you want, and what you expect, and you need to listen. At the same time, if you are being led, you've got to fully understand what the leader wants.
 
The E is empowerment, and that's not just letting everybody wander off and do anything they want. It's providing the resources and methods required to achieve success.
 
The A is accountability. Everybody has to buy in to the success of whatever is going on. Individuals have to be accountable for making their contribution, and making it work.
 
The R is relevance, and that's the one people trip up on the most. You could be the absolute best buggy whip maker in the world, you can have very, very high scores on the first four success drivers, but if buggy whips are irrelevant in the market place you're not going to be successful. That's a real challenge in the car business, because you’ve got to make sure that not only is the product itself relevant – that it deals with an evolving social structure, like environmental or fuel economy issues –  but it’s also relevant to what people are going to want, so they’ll buy it.
 
Plano Living -- At least for now, Daly maintains an office in Plano, Texas, while also working out of our Torrance headquarters. (Photo by Rex Curry)
 
Tell me about your day-to-day job now.
 
The great part about where I am is that my day-to-day job is moving toward the side door, so I have turned over a great deal of responsibility that I used to have, and right now I'm focused on making the transition. One of the most interesting things that's going on is the selling of the Torrance and Erlanger campuses.
 
The Erlanger campus is easier to explain. We're going to give that lab building to the local educational community, and we're going to really put some muscle behind STEAM education. It’s going to be great.
 
The Torrance campus is quite a bit more complicated because it is offices, lab space, open land and so forth. We have an offering out there now. We've had a lot of very, very significant interest in it from real players. We are having some interesting conversations about what this campus might be. Obviously we want to get a return on the value of it, but we've had a wonderful relationship with the city of Torrance, and with Southern California over the years, so we want to see that this continues to be a contributing element in Southern California. We're looking for folks who could come in and provide employment and be good corporate citizens.
 
Do you feel like we have a responsibility to leave that Torrance campus in good hands?
 
We absolutely want to do that. That was the most significant question that TMC (Toyota Motor Corp.) asked us when we presented our ideas for selling the campus. The first question wasn't, “How much can you get for it?” The first question was, “What will be the impact on Torrance? What will be the impact on California?”
 
I would point out that we are going to continue to be a major player in California, and we're going to do a lot of business there. It appears that we're going to be able to successfully carve the Parts Distribution Center (PDC) out of the campus and leave it where it is, so we'll still be in Torrance, and we'll still be serving dealers and customers out of Southern California.
 
What's one thing you do on a regular basis that people might find odd, or surprising?
 
I'm not sure. I don't have any. I don't raise lizards or anything.
 
Snow Cap -- The Dalys, with wife Emiley and daughters Caroline (left) and Courtney, love to travel, including this trip to Iceland. 

That would be awesome if you did. What are your passions outside of work?
 
We – my wife, Emiley and my kids – are travel people. We wander around. We're looking forward to doing some of that when the retirement actually takes hold. We're reasonably active sports fans. We kind of migrated over to the Cowboys. It so happens that (famed Dallas Cowboys QB) Roger Staubach is the head of JLL, which is the real estate organization that we have used for the procurement and development of the new HQ campus in Texas, and they're also handling the sale of the Torrance campus for us, so we've had an opportunity to get to know him. We've had an opportunity to get kind of an insider's look at the Cowboys.
 
What do you feel like your legacy is going to be once you retire?
 
I hope that I've contributed to the growth and the sophistication of the business. We took over the North American parts activity years ago, and that was a lot of fun. Then from a legacy standpoint it was a privilege to work on the One Toyota project, and so I hope we made some good decisions on what the campuses are looking like, and what the business structure is as you all go forward.
 
Looking back on your time here is there any moment that sticks out as being a quintessential moment for you?
 
Yeah, there are some that you look back on and say that was the right thing to do. One that gets written up fairly often – that I got in on the early part of just by happenstance – was the launch of Lexus.  I got to discuss with TMC what the concepts would be, what the dealer requirements would be, and so forth. There was a lot of talk about getting into the luxury business, and I had been in the Lincoln business which, at the time, was a very successful luxury business in the U.S.
 
Do you have any advice for the next generation of Toyota team members?
 
I do, and it's not any great revelation. It's rooted in my CLEAR philosophy and the Toyota Way of continuous improvement and respect for people. First and foremost, that means respecting the customer and making sure that everything we do is for the benefit of the customer. But it also includes having that attitude toward our business partners. The dealers are incredibly important, the suppliers are incredibly important, the team members are incredibly important.
 
If you stay with that philosophy, I think innovation and commitment will flow within that framework, and the company will be successful. That’s what makes Toyota what Toyota is. Toyota is different than other companies, and that's what makes it successful. My advice over the next 50 years would be to learn from the folks who were here before you, but innovate and stick with the Toyota Way.
 
By Dan Nied
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