Cheryl Jones, 42
Project General Manager, Baja California, Toyota Motor Company
Education: B.S., business administration, Northwood University
What your college professors didn't teach you: "It's extremely difficult to teach how to motivate people. Each individual is unique, so how do you help them achieve their goals in life through what you need to get accomplished?"
First automotive job: Assembly group leader at Georgetown, Ky., Toyota plant in 1987
Most fun automotive job: "After 10 years in assembly, I was transferred to paint, which is very technical. I don't have an engineering degree, so it was real exciting to understand the process of how to spray the cars."
Career highlights (all with Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky)
- 2002-04 General manager, paint
- 1998-2002 Assistant general manager, paint
- 1994-98 Assembly manager
- 1990-94 Pilot assistant manager
- 1987-90 Trim group leader
Biggest mistake and what you learned: "I could give you a list of all the mistakes I've made. When I was in assembly 10 years ago, we had a major breakdown on the Avalon line. We were working overtime on a Saturday, so I decided to run the line with Camrys and a gap every other car where an Avalon should be. On Monday morning, I came into work and everyone was asking me why I did that. They explained why it was a bad idea to be paying people overtime and running the line at half volume. But they never made me feel uncomfortable. I never felt I would lose my job."
Proudest achievement: "I've been asked to represent Toyota at a women's conference for all the women in Kentucky. Until then I had never realized the role-model position I have within the company, to be out there as a resource. It let me see how I can help others who have joined the company and try to help them through their career. There wasn't anyone else in that position when I joined the company."
Current challenge: "I live in San Diego, and it's an interesting perspective crossing the border going to work every day. Then I go home to Kentucky for weekends about once a month - not every weekend, because it's too long a flight. That started in January and will be going on for a year. For women, you have to have a strong support system, a family who understands and supports your career. My husband has become accustomed to being 'Mr. Cheryl Jones.' I've had other females talk to me about handling that situation. It is very difficult to balance that."
On being successful: "Continual improvement comes from making mistakes and learning from them."
What about the auto industry surprised you: "It may be unique to Toyota, but I thought going into manufacturing would mean lots of cussing, yelling and screaming, and that I would have to be thick-skinned. But it pleasantly was not like that at all. We have emotional, frustrating moments, sure, but it's not that kind of environment. It is very respectful."
What women need to know for success in the auto industry: "The real key in my career is to embrace change whenever there is opportunity. It can be difficult, and you can say, 'I can't do that.' Sometimes it has been difficult personally. When I joined Toyota, my son was 5, and I had to go to Japan for a month of training. As far as putting yourself in uncomfortable experiences, the more you get out of your comfort zone, the more you grow, and the more you learn. I never regret any of them. Early on with Toyota, they came and asked me to work on new model changes. I was still getting used to doing assembly, so I said I wasn't sure I wanted to do it. Someone later came and told me to never, ever pass on those opportunities."
Job to which you aspire: "After 18 years at Toyota, sure I want to move up in the organization. But it's more about how I can best help Toyota. The role I could really help in would be from a diversity standpoint, to mentor more of the females who work in the manufacturing environment. I aspire to be the resource that can be used to help develop more females in the company."
What you do to relax: "Outdoor sports, gardening, stained glass. Breaking glass relieves a lot of stress."