An apology would have been nice
Some years ago, I interviewed the then head of global purchasing for General Motors, Bob Socia. A courteous and affable man, the interview was a delight to conduct. Obviously, given his role at GM, many of my questions concerned relationships with suppliers. At one point, I asked Socia to identify some GM suppliers which, in his opinion, epitomised the standards of excellence he was seeking. He only named one. Takata Corporation.
Yes, the same Takata Corporation which, last week, entered into Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings. The same company which authorities have linked with at least 16 deaths, mostly in the United States, and more than 180 injuries due to exploding Takata airbag inflators made with ammonium nitrate that became volatile with age and prolonged exposure to heat causing the devices to explode with too much force and spray shrapnel into vehicle compartments.
Last week, Takata’s shares fell through the floor on the Tokyo Stock Exchange; they have fallen in value by 91% since June. The company’s bankruptcy is the largest by a Japanese manufacturer since the end of the second world war. The Tokyo exchange will delist Takata Corporation on July 27.
Last week, saw the occasion of Takata’s final annual shareholder meeting as a listed company. Its Chief Executive Officer, Shigehisa Takada, a grandson of the company’s founder, expressed condolences to the victims of its faulty equipment but stopped short of offering a full apology.
“We offer our condolences to the those who lost their lives and to those who suffered injuries,” he said. Condolences! Surely the least that the victims and their families and loved ones could have expected was a full-blown abject apology. “I was told that I shouldn't cause any bias and that I should leave it to others,” Takada said, responding to criticism in the Japanese press. “I too felt shame about this.”
As an example of evading responsibility this takes some beating. Whatever happened to US President Harry Truman’s famous dictum, “the buck stops here?”
As part of the bankruptcy arrangements Takata Corporation will be largely acquired for $1.6 billion by the Chinese-owned US-based Key Safety Systems. It will come as no surprise to learn that the new owners are planning to drop the Takata name. The memory of it will, however, live on in odium for years to come.
Simon Duval Smith
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