Akio Toyoda

Easygoing CEO is firmly in control of Toyota North America

PLANO, Texas Laid-back Jim Lentz had 48 hours to get tough. It was the early '80s, and the young, affable Lentz now CEO of Toyota's North American operations had just begun work as a merchandising manager in Toyota's Portland, Ore., office. Though sales in the region were strong, his boss didn't like his management style. "He thought I was too soft," Lentz said recently in an interview at his third-floor office at Toyota's temporary headquarters in this Dallas suburb. "He thought you managed with an iron fist." The boss gave Lentz an ultimatum: Change or leave the company. "I had a lot of soul-searching to do over a very long...