Barbra Cooper, 57
Group Vice President and Chief Information Officer, Information Systems, Toyota Motor Company
Education: B.S., education, University of Nebraska
What your college professors didn't teach you: "Back in those days, being one of the only females in a very male-dominated field, there really was no corporate support regarding treatment of women. You really had to learn how to navigate the political waters in a fairly unique way."
First automotive job: Vice president of information systems at Toyota in 1996
Biggest mistake and what you learned: "Underestimating the complexity of our order-management project, which dealt with production, distribution and dealer allocation of cars. We got halfway through that project and faced a mortal flaw in it. We essentially had to start over."
- 1998 Group vice president, information systems, Toyota Motor Sales
- 1996-98 Vice president, information systems, Toyota Motor Sales
- 1995-96 Vice president and chief information officer, MicroAge Inc., Tempe, Ariz.
- 1991-95 Chief information officer, Maricopa County, Ariz.
- 1985-91 Vice president, technology, American Express Travel Related Services
Proudest achievement: "Creating our Dealer Daily dealer management system. It was so critical to our dealer body, having something that met their needs and significantly improved their ability to do their job. Getting more than 1,000 independent dealers to be happy with something you did - that's pretty cool."
Current challenge: "Trying to build the long-range strategic plan for the company for the next 10 years in terms of the technology road map. We have to get into a more flexible computing environment to address the complexity and pace of the market. It pushes hard on your system's ability to flex. How do I develop an infrastructure to allow Toyota to be as competitive as it needs to be 10 years out?"
What about the auto industry surprised you: How the relationship works between consumer, dealer, distributor and the parent company is unique from other industries."
What women need to know for success in the auto industry: "Understand how to build and develop the right talent. Be a strong communicator on any level. Never give up, and don't give in. Be patient. Know when to make a move or push on something as opposed to giving it time to ripen. Toyota wasn't used to having executives from the outside, let alone a female from the outside. I grew up as a military brat, so I've grown up learning to adapt to different places and people. You have to understand what the cultural tolerances are. Whether changing jobs within companies or to another company, you need to have that sensing skill to be able to adapt well. You can be the smartest person in the room, but if you can't build credibility and acceptance, it doesn't matter that you are smart."
Job to which you aspire: "I have had opportunities in the past to cross into general management, and I have chosen to stay in my field, mostly because the world of technology and its pace has a seductive quality to challenge you to stay up with it.
"CIO is a high-turnover position. It's a hard job to sustain credibility and have executives really understand what you do. Once you have that, you're hooked."
What you do to relax: "Reading anything that is not work-related, as well as gardening and walking on the beach."