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Minjuan Zhang

Toyota Motor North America

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General Manager, Toyota Research Institute, North America, Toyota Motor North America
Ann Arbor, Mich.
Age: 48
Education: B.S., material science and engineering, Beihang University; M.S., electrical engineering, Shanghai Institute of Metallurgy, Academia Sinica; Ph.D., Tokyo Institute of Technology

What attracted you to the auto industry? I emigrated to the United States in 2001 and we settled in Ann Arbor, and as Michigan is a hub of the auto industry, I wanted to be part of it.

First automotive job: I joined Toyota in 2003 as a senior scientist working on materials.

Big break: My lucky moment was in the last four years in having a really good boss. I really learned a lot from him, and also the division vice president recognized my career passion.

What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? To accelerate Toyota’s research in North America and bring more innovations into future vehicles.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? That would be the previous general manager I worked for, Takashi Kuzuya, and the division VP, Yasutoshi Jagawa. They are very supportive of our work. With the color project, the research is done here but the engineering is done in Japan. So we have to transfer this to Japan and this has a lot of challenges. So they decided to send me to Japan for a year to do that. That one year was really precious for me and for the project.

Tell us about your family. I have two sons. The older one is a college student, a junior at Princeton, studying economics. The younger one is 8 and is going into fourth grade. My husband is also a scientist. We were classmates, and he works in industry in Ann Arbor.

What’s your favorite weekend activity? Tennis. We are a tennis family.

Name one thing about yourself that most people don’t know. I play chess. When we emigrated to the United States, I taught myself to play. Then I taught my sons to play, and they each won the Michigan championship in grade school.

Name one talent you wish you had. Singing. My oldest son really likes singing. At Princeton he is in the Tigertones. I wish I had that talent.

By Neal E. Boudette

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