But it remains to be seen how much influence the relatively young Sato will be able to exert, analysts said, given that many of the executives around him will be older — something that still counts for a lot in Japan.
He may not be able to deliver much of a strategy shift at first, and the next few years may be a kind of “apprenticeship period” said Koji Endo, senior analyst at SBI Securities.
There is also precedent in Japan for company founders, or their family members, to continue to wield outsized influence over day-to-day management even after becoming chairman.
Last year the chairman and founder of electric motor maker Nidec returned to the role of CEO less than a year after relinquishing it, replacing the executive he had hired as his successor.
One Toyota executive, who asked not to be identified, said the automaker was headed for a period of “cloistered rule,” referring to a period in Japan’s history when a retired emperor continued to play a key decision-making role.
At a news conference on Thursday, broadcast on Toyota’s in-house media platform, Toyoda looked fully in control, turning from time to time to offer instruction and reminders to Sato.
Still, outsiders have been able to put their stamp on the company. Toyoda’s outgoing Chairman, Takeshi Uchiyamada, is often credited with spearheading development of the Prius.
“Toyota is a public company that likes to pretend it’s a family company,” said John Shook, a former Toyota manager who now consults on the lean management techniques pioneered by the automaker. “Choosing someone who is much younger and with Sato’s background indicates Akio recognized the time for change had come.”