Tributes pour in for Toyota SA chairperson Johan van Zyl. Picture: Nonhlanhla Kambule.
Tributes pour in for Toyota SA chairperson Johan van Zyl. Picture: Nonhlanhla Kambule.

Tributes pour in for Toyota SA chairperson Johan van Zyl

By Edward West Time of article published Aug 2, 2021

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TRIBUTES have poured in following the passing of Toyota South Africa (TSA) chairperson Dr Johan van Zyl, or “The Doc” as he was affectionately known, who died at the age of 63 on Friday evening in Pretoria from Covid-19-related complications.

“‘The Doc’ had an uncanny sense of knowing just what consumers wanted and was able to instil this thinking in all his colleagues, which is why he had such a profound impact on the Toyota family,” Andrew Kirby, the current president and chief executive of Toyota South Africa Motors, said.

Van Zyl began his career with the company in 1993 as director for vehicle sales and dealer network. He was appointed president and chief operating officer of TSA in 2002, and president and chief executive in 2003.

In June 2009, he was appointed as a managing officer, Toyota Motor Corporation chief executive of the Africa Region in April 2013, and senior managing officer in April 2017. In 2015, he took on the role of president and chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe until his retirement in early 2021.

“He left an indelible mark there too, as under his tenure sales in Europe passed the 1 million mark in 2019 for the first time in 10 years. On his return to South Africa, Dr Van Zyl remained chairman of TSA,” said Kirby.

He said “The Doc” would be remembered most for his humanity – his ability to remember the name of each person with whom he came into contact, his self-deprecating sense of humour that immediately put everyone at ease, and his comprehensive general knowledge.

The Automotive Business Council said Van Zyl was elected president of the National Association of Automobile Manufacturers of South Africa (Naamsa) for two terms from 2005 to 2008 and again in 2013 for a two-year term.

He was also a “towering architect” of the Automotive Production Development Programme in 2013.

“Dr Van Zyl was an influential and impactful leader, not only in the automotive industry, but also in the country when he and a few other business leaders established the PPGI (Public Private Growth Initiative), which brought together social partners to work closer in resolving some of the country’s biggest socio-economic challenges,” said Naamsa chief executive Mike Mabasa.

Van Zyl also led talks with President Cyril Ramaphosa in the early days of the sixth administration on ways the business community could create more jobs and boost investment.

Gary Scott, Naamsa’s vice-president: retailing OEMs and the chief executive of Kia SA, said: “His strong legacy is indisputable – a wonderful life of achievement and contribution. Our thoughts are with his family and the entire Toyota family.”

Trade, Industry and Competition Minister Ebrahim Patel described Van Zyl’s passing as the “loss of an industrial giant, a thoughtful voice and a great South African.

“Johan saw the opportunity to strengthen Toyota’s local footprint, and I recall that in 2009 I met with him, and we developed a proposal to bring the production of minibus taxis to South Africa. At the time, taxis were imported. He was enthusiastic about the idea and presented the proposal at the global board of Toyota, and today all minibus taxis used on our roads are assembled locally.”

Van Zyl is survived by his wife Santie, daughters Nadia and Karla, sons-in-law Dirk and Brent, and his grandchildren.

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