Published on: March 16, 2010by Michael Sansolo
Food safety issues always concern me, but quite honestly it’s usually in an intellectual sense. I hear about the problem and think of the supply chain and sales implications. Kevin and I debate issues of transparency, responsibility and more.
But the bottom line is I’m kind of like the famously emotionless Mr. Spock of Star Trek fame, strangely unaffected. And I’ll bet I’m not alone because usually the problem usually doesn’t impact me. I don’t own stores nor do I sell products. So unless I consume the product in question (and that has happened), I can easily cite statistics on why the problem really, really isn’t all that big. In short, the problem is business, not personal.
This week there’s a difference, as the world of safety is suddenly feeling very personal.
The issue is this: my sister drives a Toyota Prius. And suddenly the thought of her out on I-95 or running my young nephew to Little League practices gives me nightmares. I’m betting I’m not alone on this one.
Now intellectually, I know the well-publicized cases of unintended acceleration of the Prius and the corresponding lack of braking are very, very, very rare. The problem Toyota has right now is that the company is in the crosshairs of consumer concern and media attention. Every fender bender involving a Toyota is cause for national panic and cable news reports. Already we are seeing questions raised about the legitimacy of some of the complaints of runaway cars.
Intellectually it makes me feel better. But really, I still worry.
Clearly, Toyota has a problem both in quality - which may be overstated - and in public relations - which cannot be understated. The auto company that a few months ago was synonymous with quality now sees that reputation shredded further with each passing day. It is stunning that Toyota’s future is probably murkier than any other car company out there and that’s not a small feat these days.
I say this as someone who has owned three Toyotas, all of which have lived on and on in miles and years. I say it because I think of my sister and my nephew and I wish they could trade the car in yesterday, except it now has no value on the trade-in market.
I’m betting I am not the only person out there with a Toyota or relatives driving a Toyota. I’m betting I’m not the only person whose intellectual understanding of safety is getting shaken by the string of Toyota reports. I’m betting I’m not the only person who is having their Mr. Spock side challenged by this incident.
This is a good moment to consider issues of food safety within the context of the Toyota problem. The anxiety that so many of us are feeling about our cars is the same uncertainty and concern felt by many shoppers every time a report comes out about a new food safety concern. It gives us the opportunity to think about what lessons we can learn from how Toyota has handled its situation, and what we should be doing better in our industry.
I’m betting we’d all talk about better communication, quicker action, more transparency and, of course, getting very pro-active to prevent problems in the first place. One has to believe there are Toyota executives and dealers who wish they could magically go back in time and do it all again. We shouldn’t let their lesson pass without learning something from it as business leaders and consumers.
There’s an old joke about how when you fall down it’s funny; when I fall it’s a tragedy. In other words, everything matters most when it matters to me.
Toyota is helping me see the safety problem a different way because it impacts my sister and her son. And maybe that’s something I needed to see all along.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His new book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
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