Will rivals snap up Toyota talent that stays behind?

Toyota's move to north Texas almost certainly will put some of its senior managerial and executive talent in play. But those who choose not to board the plane to Plano may find limited appetite for Toyota veterans among competing automakers in Southern California.

West Coast auto industry executives say that American Honda, Hyundai Motor America, Kia Motors America, Mazda North American Operations and Mitsubishi Motors North America lack the capacity to absorb large numbers of ex-Toyotans into their payrolls.

Toyota's deep bench of seasoned mid- to senior-level executives, who tend to earn higher salaries than counterparts at other companies, may find it tough to make a parallel move onto those leaner staffs without taking a hit to their salaries, industry executives said.

"I'd be surprised if 100 people transfer over to another brand," said Stephen Parkford, founder of Long Beach, Calif., executive search firm Parkford & Associates, which handles auto industry searches exclusively.

Competing brands will be most interested in hiring younger, dynamic employees, who are always in demand in the industry, Parkford says. But it's the longer-tenured Toyota staffers with deeper roots in Southern California who may be most likely to stay back.

"[Competitors will] take some of the talent from Toyota that's younger and still has a very long career path," he said. "Ironically, the ones that will want to stay more will be the ones with the shorter career path."

Limited room

That said, West Coast auto industry insiders say they do see Toyota's relocation to Texas as a chance to land some top talent -- if it's the right fit.

One senior West Coast auto executive says that near-term hiring plans in place before the announcement of Toyota's move may be delayed as hiring managers pause to take a look at the Toyota talent that's available.

"It could be somewhat disruptive for hiring plans of Honda, Hyundai and Kia," said the executive, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. "Now the candidate pool is almost certainly richer."

Another executive at a West Coast auto brand, who asked not to be identified as discussing company hiring plans, said that if a candidate from Toyota were to apply for an open position, such a candidate would be attractive. But, this executive noted, creating a new position just to deepen the firm's roster seemed unlikely.

"I have heard, 'Oh, my God, there's a lot of a talent on the street,' but I didn't get the sense that there's any appetite to go above and beyond what we were going to do before," this executive said.

When Nissan left California for Tennessee in 2006, it said that some 40 percent of its 1,300 employees came along. Both executives worked for competing West Coast brands at the time and said some Nissan employees were picked up, but only a few.

"We did see some more Nissan resumes, but the total number of folks we brought on board was relatively small," the first executive said.

Cultural difference

Another factor at play is the differing corporate cultures of West Coast automakers. Toyota's slower, decision-by-consensus culture may not easily mesh with smaller companies.

Toyota "is like the General Motors of the West Coast," Parkford said. "It's the big machine with tons of talent who are all smart, well-educated, well-trained, but they're too culture-driven," he said.

"Hyundai may be interested in the talent that's available now, but much of it will not be actually picked up because so much of it is highly priced and terribly inculcated in the Toyota culture versus Hyundai, which is a lot more scrappy, or Mazda, which is a lot more scrappy."

You can reach Ryan Beene at autonews@crain.com

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