PRINCETON, Ind. - One of the hottest dates in town in these parts is a folksy visit with the management at the Toyota truck plant.
On 'Guest Night' at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana Inc., crowds of employees and their spouses stroll through the Princeton, Ind., Tundra assembly plant.
They nibble hors d'oeuvres. They sip soft drinks and coffee. They meander arm-in-arm along the production line. They sit and converse with the factory's senior managers.
The company created Guest Night on the assumption that some team members might like to show their families where they work. But in the past couple of months, the meet-and-greet events have had waiting lists.
Toyota now hosts groups of 70 to 80 people every other week. The plant had to increase the number of Guest Nights to allow more employees through. And since a second work shift started in late July, Toyota is making plans to offer daytime family tours.
Auto factories around the nation allow visitors onto the premises to see autos being assembled. But Toyota has something else in mind in Indiana. The administration sees Guest Night as a way to build relationships not only with the workers but also with their families.
'We want that family involvement in understanding what we are and what's going on here,' explains Tom Suter, the company's general manager of administration. 'The wives and husbands want to know how things work here.'
Seizo Okamoto, CEO of the Princeton venture, often meets with families and discusses his goals for the plant. 'I also tell the spouses about the hard work,' Okamoto says. 'I tell them there will be overtime and Saturday work.'
Okamoto says he likes the personal interaction with the team members. He believes less information gets lost when he personally talks to workers and explains Toyota's approach to business.
The company will continue the after-hours visits at least as long as hiring continues. That may be a long time. Princeton currently employs 1,700 and is hiring 800 more over the coming year. All of them need to know who Toyota is, Suter says.
'It's really the spouses who ask most of the questions,' he says. 'When you think about it, it's often the spouse at home who deals with health-care insurance issues and questions about benefits.'