Oh Toyota. You are this close to becoming a business school teaching lesson. You are this close to becoming Bon Vivant Vichyssoise! Never heard of Bon Vivant? Read on.
Back in the early seventies there was a food company named Bon Vivant. They made high end canned soups under their own name and for others. I’ll let the NY Times pick up the story:
On an early July day in 1971 when it was too hot to cook, a couple in Westchester County, N.Y., sat down to a meal of Bon Vivant vichyssoise, a soup often served chilled (and in this case, straight from the can). The soup tasted funny, so they didn’t finish it; within hours he was dead and she was paralyzed from botulism poisoning. F.D.A. investigators found five other cans of vichyssoise from the same batch of 6,444 that were also tainted with botulism, and spot checks of other products raised questions about the company’s processing practices, so the agency shut down the plant and told the company to recall all its soups.
Bon Vivant tried to fight the recall, calling it an overreaction to a highly isolated problem, but it soon became obvious that few consumers would touch anything with Bon Vivant on the label. And because it was known that the company manufactured store brands as well as its own, people started to be suspicious of every kind of canned soup on the shelf. Bon Vivant filed for bankruptcy within a month.
Instead of getting ahead of the story Bon Vivant pushed back. They put their profits and priorities before their customer’s. We tend not to like that from those who feed us and from whom we expect scrupulous attention to safety.
Nearly seventy years of soup making and Bon Vivant was gone within a month! They became the poster child for what not to do in a crisis.
Fast forward to 1982. Someone injected cyanide into Tylenol capsules after they were already on the store shelf. What did Johnson and Johnson do? They took responsibility and bore the immediate cost though the sabotage happened out of their reach.
Although Johnson & Johnson knew they were not responsible for the tampering of the product, they assumed responsibility by ensuring public safety first and recalled all of their capsules from the market. In fact, in February of 1986, when a woman was reported dead from cyanide poisoning in Tylenol capsules, Johnson & Johnson permanently removed all of the capsules from the market.
You don’t think twice about taking Tylenol today, do you?
I am a Toyota guy. My first new car was a 1970 Toyota Corona. I or my family have had one for most of the time since then. Helaine and Stef both drive Toyotas today.
I have no animus toward Toyota. But seriously, it seems they are following the lead of Bon Vivant and not Johnson and Johnson.
The public trust is not easily obtained nor should it be taken lightly. Toyota has been behind on this story at every step. It’s not going away.
I just watched CNN’s Jessica Yellin play a phone conversation with Toyota about her own Prius. Damning.
I know GM and Ford are licking their chops hoping for Toyota’s downfall. I’m not sure that would be as good for all of us as it is for them. I am not rooting for Toyota’s failure. Their prior attention to quality has forced the US auto industry to step-it-up over the last few decades.
Right now more than Toyota’s cars are speeding down the road out-of-control.