Smashing the auto industry's remaining glass ceilings can be difficult work — but it's much more fun if you have a friend who's always standing by with a hammer.
That's the case with Leah Curry and Susan Elkington. In the early 2000s, the two met as managers in the welding shop of Toyota's massive assembly plant in Princeton, Ind. Though vastly different, they quickly became lifelong friends, trusted confidantes and, over time, champions of each other's careers.
Today, they command two of Toyota Motor Corp.'s largest assembly plants and are among the 2020 Automotive News 100 Leading Women in the North American Auto Industry.
Elkington, 49, is president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky — the automaker's largest assembly plant in the world — which makes the Camry and Camry Hybrid, Avalon and Avalon Hybrid and the RAV4 Hybrid, as well as the Lexus ES 350 and ES 300h.
Curry, 59, is president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, one of the automaker's most profit-rich plants, which builds the Highlander and Highlander Hybrid crossovers, the Sequoia SUV and the Sienna hybrid minivan.
Theirs is not a story about building cars, but about building an enduring friendship — one that began amid the daily shower of sparks in the body weld area of the plant that Curry now runs.
"The first time I saw Leah, she was in her weld gear — hard hat, sleeves, boots — and she was among all the men in weld shop," recalled Elkington, who was, at the time, a young engineer with short-cropped hair who had moved over from general assembly to body-building stamping. She was also Curry's boss.
Elkington remembers being a little awestruck of Curry, who came to work each day with full makeup and kept her long, curly hair tucked up under her hard hat.
"She was clearly the go-to person" in the department, Elkington said of Curry. "She amazed me by how [her male co-workers] respected her, and she knew so much more about welding and the equipment than they did. She was a little intimidating to me."
For Curry, her new supervisor also left an impression.