Women are leading the way in fields that for years were dominated by men. In the first of our series. “Women Leading the Way” we feature Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky's first female President, Susan Elkington.
“My goal is to make sure every day I’m here at the facility is that I spend some time on the production room floor because this is where everything happens”
That’s Susan Elkington, the first female President of Toyota’s largest manufacturing facility in the world, located in Georgetown Kentucky. Elkington took over at the beginning of this year for Wil James who retired after 30 years .
The self-described introvert oversees a $7 billion operation, which employs over 8,000 people. and can produce as many as 550,000 vehicles in a year.
Wearing her signature blue blouse with the team Kentucky Toyota logo and safety glasses the 46 -year -old is enthusiastic walking the production floor where she says a vehicle comes off the assembly line every 60 seconds.
Elkington: “ Why I’m here isn’t necessarily about just building great vehicles and we build great vehicles. But it’s really about what these jobs in this community really means to the community. The fact that Toyota positions our jobs that you can come in, you can do great work and provide for your family. But then the majority of our team members also give back to the community. So whenever I come into work it’s about how can I make somebody else’s day better while I’m doing the other parts of my job, making the vehicles better, making us more competitive .”
Elkington is an engineer by trade and a native of Huntingburg, Indiana . She joined Toyota at the Indiana facility in 1998. Professionally Elkington appreciates everything she’s learned from her mentors at Toyota. Personally she credits a high school teacher who inspired her to pursue engineering. And she gets a little emotional talking about her dad who was a farmer and her mom a book keeper . She says they taught her from a very young age the importance of giving back.
Elkington: “They were scout leaders and my dad would grate peoples’ driveways when it snowed. And just made so many contributions to the community in subtle ways. My father passed away and we’re in a community of 6000 people and a thousand people showed up to the visitation.”
Elkington is a practicing Catholic and married with 4 daughters. The youngest , is now an engineer for Toyota in Indiana.
In January of 2017 Elkington joined Toyota in Georgetown as senior vice president. Before that she was the first woman to serve in a global production role at Toyota City, Japan, She takes her very visible role seriously but admits when at work she’s not focused on the fact that she’s female.
Elkington: ”But I believe as a female one of the responsibilities I have is to be a positive role model for other females in the way I go about doing my work, the way I interact with people. Also it’s my responsibility to encourage young females to do whatever they desire to do and not limit themselves based on somebody else’s stereotype.”
Susan Elkington is proud of Toyota and its values but also beams talking about the product. She refers to the Camry as the number 1 selling car 17 years in a row. And she’s very excited for the launch this year of the 2019 Avalon .
What drives Susan Elkington.? Well literally it will soon be the new Avalon otherwise…
Elkington: “Whenever I can see someone capable of doing something today that they thought they weren’t capable of doing yesterday. And that’s what drives me every day..”