“Understanding how to navigate through a strong corporate culture was something I had to learn during my career at Toyota,” said Latondra Newton. “Toyota is one of the most admired companies in the world because it approaches its business practices in unique ways that are deeply rooted in its history. I’d read so much about the “Toyota Production System” and “Toyota Way” before I took a job with the company, but no academic exercise could have prepared me for being on the inside.”
Latondra Newton has held a variety of positions since beginning her career with Toyota in 1991. Among them are general manager of the center that managed engineering and manufacturing staff training and development initiatives in North America, and assistant general manager of Toyota’s™ human resources, management development and diversity department. In that role, Newton started the corporate diversity function for North American manufacturing.
As assistant general manager of Corporate Affairs, she was responsible for state and federal legislative/regulatory activity, media relations and community relations. Prior to leaving Toyota’s™ purchasing organization in 1999, she managed the facilities and transportation department, where she directed procurement of capital equipment, building construction andlogistics services for North America.
Currently, Newton is the vice president of Strategic Planning & Research and Corporate Diversity at Toyota Motor North America, Inc. She oversees corporate planning activities, image research, economic forecasting, and competitor analysis as well as diversity and inclusion strategy.
Clearly, Newton has kept moving at Toyota but how did she find the keys to successful navigation?
“My approach was to seek out the right people to coach me on the job, even if those folks were very different than I,” Newton explained. “It was one of my early diversity and inclusion lessons: Inclusion works both ways. We can’t just expect people in the dominant culture to do all of the reaching out; those of us in the non-dominant culture need to show up, ready to engage.”
To new college grads and early professionals, Newton has five tips for success:
1. Be self-aware. Make this a discipline, not just a periodic exercise of self-reflection.
I always recommend the Enneagram character typing tool to others who want to understand themselves better and know how to build productive work relationships.
2. Learn how to solve problems. I think it’s the most transferable business skill out there if you can establish a systematic way to do it.
3. Think, in moderation, beyond your current situation.
I like to spend 90 percent of my energy on dealing with my current role, with the balance going toward a future role or aspiration. I find that if I spend too much time thinking about what’s next, it leads to unnecessary frustration and potential performance issues in the current role.
4. Always be ready to answer the question, ‘so what?’ I ask this question almost every day.
It’s one thing to do great research or analyzes that show your technical abilities. It’s a better thing to be able to communicate the significance of the work to people who don’t have those same insights.
5. Laugh. Who wants to spend 10 plus hours a day away from family/friends in an environment where no one has fun?
Toyota is very committed to producing vehicles where they sell them. “A product like that is of local job creation,” said Newton. “We recently opened our 10th manufacturing plant in the U.S. located in Mississippi, which contributed about 2,000 new jobs to the area. Toyota directly employs more than 30,000 people across the U.S. and that number continues to grow.”
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