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Home > Op-Ed > Op-Ed THINKING ALOUD The Toyo-Tata Way to nation-building
Sudheendra Kulkarni Indian Express: Sunday, January 20, 2008
Can the making of a car become a symbol of the making of a nation? Can manufacturing become a metaphor for nation-building? The proposition may sound preposterous, but it’s worth exploring.
The British had mocked at Jamsedji Tata’s plans to establish an indigenous steel plant in India, with Sir Frederick Upcott, head of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, saying, “I shall eat every pound of steel rail the Tatas succeed in making.” The archives of Indian Railways have no record of how many pounds of steel the arrogant angrez ate once the project got underway in 1912. Similarly, when Jamsedji’s worthy scion, Ratan Tata, unveiled the Indica car in 2001, he disproved many sceptics. More recently, Nano is his answer to nay-sayers who had said “impossible”, when he promised to make the world’s cheapest car in India. If nation-building is about building national pride, Tata Steel and Tata Motors have built a good deal of “Yes, we can do it” spirit among Indians.
But it is from Japan that we can truly learn a deeper philosophy linking manufacturing and the making of a great nation. One evening early last year, while looking for second-hand books on the pavements of Matunga in Mumbai, a title caught my attention — The Toyota Way: 14 Management Principles from the World’s Greatest Manufacturer, by Jeffrey Liker.
“Toyota is as much a state of mind as it is a car company,” said a blurb on the book-cover. I completed reading it overnight, and said to myself, “This is mind-expanding stuff. The best minds in politics and governance in India must read this treatise to get ideas on national reconstruction.”
This conviction was reinforced when, during a visit to Japan last year, I made it a point to spend a day at Toyota’s sprawling headquarters in Nagoya.
“Respect for Humanity” is at the foundation of the Toyota Way, also known as the Toyota Production System (TPS), which is now studied globally by students of manufacturing management. The company’s president Fujio Cho says, “Since Toyota’s founding, we have adhered to the core principle of contributing to society through the practice of manufacturing high-quality products and services. Our business practices based on this core principle created values, beliefs and business methods that over the years have become a source of competitive advantage. These are known collectively as the Toyota Way.”

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