As GM's Wagoner finally goes, Japanese CEOs must wonder how he lasted so long

Posted by: Ian Rowley on March 30, 2009

I’d love to know what Katsuaki Watanabe, Toyota’s outgoing president, thinks now that General Motors CEO Rick Wagoner is finally losing his job. Watanabe, after all, is also on the way out after Toyota announced in January that Toyota scion Akio Toyoda would take over as the company’s president in June.

Unlike Wagoner, Watanabe—at least before the last six months—had a pretty good run during his four years as Toyota’s top executive. The company posted record profits for the first three years, including net earnings of $17.5 billion in the year that ended in March 2008. But as collapsing auto sales and a surging yen caught up with Toyota, which will post its first loss since 1950 for the financial year that ends tomorrow, Watanabe was speedily replaced. As my colleague David Welch points out here, Wagoner was dealt a tough hand when he took over as CEO at GM eight years ago, and made some progress in cutting the trimming the company’s workforce and other areas. But he made many mistakes too.

Apart from the Wagoner’s longevity amid mounting losses, the other thing that sets U.S. auto execs apart from their Japanese counterparts like Watanabe is pay. As my colleague David Kiley noted last week Ford’s Alan Mulally compensation package fell 37% last year to $13.6 million. But it’s still more than than any Japanese auto executive received. And while Wagoner gave up most of his executive perks and agreed to work for $1-a-year after GM asked the government for bailout money, in 2007 his compensation package including cash, stock options and bonuses ran to $15.7 million (the cash portion was $3.3 million). In the year through March 2008, Toyota paid its 25 most senior executives a combined $33 million in salary and bonuses. Perhaps it’s just as well that Watanabe,67, will continue to work for Toyota as its vice chairman.

Reader Comments

Newbie

April 1, 2009 1:57 AM

That's probably American culture. In the US Big shots don't get sacked soon. Otherwise how would you justify George Bush making so many mistakes and taking so many wrong decisions still getting to complete his 8 year term.

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Bloomberg Businessweek’s team of Asia reporters brings you the latest insights on business, politics, technology and culture from some of the world’s biggest and fastest-growing economies.

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