Yoshizu keeps it real for Scion
Toyota was starting the Genesis Youth Project, intended to bring teenagers and twentysomethings into Toyota dealerships. The group needed someone to create marketing strategies aimed at hip young people.
Yoshizu grabbed the job, and suddenly went from crunching numbers to crunching drumbeats.
She has proved to be adept at forecasting underground youth trends that she is the only Toyota employee to have joined Genesis and stayed on with successor Scion to the present day. For a company that rotates employees every three years or so, she has found a rock-solid niche.
"We're lucky to have Jeri," says Brian Bolain, one of Scion's national managers at its startup, who now works in Lexus marketing. "She has awareness of the (youth) market, and of trends here, in Asia and in Europe. It is instinctive and natural for her. When you have someone who thinks that way, it's organic. It happens because she sees it."
OUT OF THE SHADOWS
Because the parts logistics operation is a back-burner part of the organization, Yoshizu had little previous contact with top management. But at Genesis and Scion she was thrust into briefings with top executives such as Yoshio Ishizaka, Yoshimi Inaba and Jim Press.
"I had no idea who Don Esmond was," recalls Yoshizu, referring to the former head of Toyota Division. "No one was telling me, 'You shouldn't dress like that.' I was really thrown into the mix."
For Genesis, Yoshizu orchestrated Toyota's Internet youth marketing effort. In early 2000, when the Genesis project fizzled, the core of the startup group was transferred. But Yoshizu kept plugging away, looking for new youth trends.
"I was so young. It never seemed like anything was going wrong," Yoshizu says. "In any office there are always naysayers and gossipy water-cooler people. I just blew it off and kept doing what I was doing."
When Toyota created Scion from the ashes of Genesis, Yoshizu suddenly was on the front lines of a brand-new brand. Scion boss Jim Farley saw a niche in connecting with underground hip-hop and street art scenes, and Yoshizu got the gig.
In her new role, Yoshizu sought out new hip-hop talent, promoted concerts for Scion owners and even launched Scion's own record label. Scion helped discover rising hip-hop artists such as Redman, NERD and Ghostface Killah, which helped the car brand gain credibility with young people.
NOT A HIP-HOP FAN
Yoshizu laughs about her imposed late-night urban lifestyle — especially since she isn't a big hip-hop fan, preferring guitar-driven alternative rock.
"This is a job, dude," she says. "I got criticized for not listening to anything made after 1998. I listen to Jane's Addiction and Oasis."
Does Yoshizu, now 38, wonder if she is too old for this sort of thing?
"A lot of the people we're working with are in the same age range. It's the people they hire who are really young," Yoshizu says. "Seeing a scene age is really weird, and the underground hip-hop scene is aging."
Does that mean Scion may part ways with hip-hop?
"The rumor is that hip-hop is on its dying IV right now," Yoshizu says. "Scion should affiliate with good creative. It doesn't matter if it's hip-hop, rock, indie-country or whatever. Knowing when to move on is as hard as knowing when to get into something."
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