In an absolutely stunning development, longtime Toyota executive Jim Press, who had been with the company for 37 years and was the first American ever elected to Toyota Motor Corporation's Board of Directors, resigned from the company to become Vice Chairman and President of Chrysler LLC. He now has the same job title as former Chrysler CEO Tom LaSorda, except that Mr. Press will be responsible for Sales and Marketing, and Mr. LaSorda will be responsible for manufacturing, labor relations, procurement, supply, and global business development and alliances.
With Toyota, which Mr. Press joined in 1970 when annual sales were about 100,000 units, his job titles were Toyota Motor America president and a Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC) senior managing director. Toyota is now the largest automaker in the world and the #2 automaker in the US (depending on the month), with 2,542,545 light vehicles sold in 2006.
Frankly, I'm surprised to see someone like Jim Press leave a comfortable, successful environment like he had at Toyota for the uncertainty of Chrysler. I would have expected Tom LaSorda to be out the door (since he was basically demoted from CEO to a COO role), but I guess money talks. Also, while Toyota sold more vehicles in the US than Chrysler did, the Chrysler job might be larger in scope than Mr. Press's job with Toyota was.
Jim Press has a proven track record of success in the industry - he was one of the executives who pushed for the latest Tundra to be larger, faster, and more capable than previous 7/8ths scale half-baked versions, and its sales success so far has proven that strategy to be a good one. Also, I needn't remind you that the Toyota Camry has been the best selling car in the US for nearly a decade. The guy knows how to sell cars, and Chrysler needs it. I believe that Chrysler, having already undergone several painful restructurings, needs someone who knows what consumers want and how to sell cars (and alter/shape perceptions of those products). Mr. LaSorda is good at his more operations-based behind-the-scenes role, and as long as Mr. Press can encourage the development of more appealing vehicles, and more importantly get consumers to buy them, Chrysler will be fine. Chrysler's dealer body is near mutiny, and Mr. Press has already promised to make repairing that relationship a high priority in his tenure.
I wish Mr. Press the best of luck in his new job. It won't be easy, but he is probably the right guy for the role. Also, congratulations are in order to Chrysler for the recruiting coup d'état, with a seemingly struggling company snagging Toyota's top US executive. Also, Toyota has lost its Lexus division vice president of marketing Debra Wahl Meyer at the end of August, who joined Chrysler as the company's chief marketing officer.