1992: J. Davis Illingworth
The man who launched Lexus in the U.S.
In our words: “The elements for success were there. Lexus had one good car, the Camry-based ES250, and one great car, the LS400. Both were launched with fine advertising and backed by a clever direct-mail campaign. Initial quality was superb. If anything was wrong, it was cheerfully fixed. Lexus’ customer service became and industry model. But despite all the right ingredients, putting the show on the road took a real leader. Fortunately for Lexus, one was waiting in the wings.”
In his own words: “Leadership isn’t just measured in sales. There’s prestige, consumer perception, and profitability. Sales are one leg of a four-legged stool. All four-legs–sales, customer service, dealers, and marketing and advertising–are the same length. I don’t know how the luxury market will shake out. We have sales objectives, but our goals may be different from those of others.”
What happened next: Lexus became the poster-child for Japanese luxury, a benchmark brands like Infiniti and Acura (and Hyundai, for that matter) have long struggled to match. Illingworth retired from Toyota at age 65 and wrote a theological book, God of Hope.