Latondra Newton, 42
Vice President, Strategic Planning and Research and Corporate Diversity, Toyota Motor Company
Why did you want to work in the auto industry? I knew absolutely zero about the industry at the time. But it wasn't the industry that drew me. It was the challenge of going into an industry that was foreign to me and learning something completely contrary to what everyone thought that I should be.
First automotive job: In 1986 four days after graduating from high school, I started as a co-op student at a General Motors' stamping plant in Marion, Ind.
Proudest professional achievement: It's not really a single thing. Helping people develop professionally has always been very important to me. In every division I've been in during my career at Toyota, and there have been several, I've made it a big point to make sure that the people who work for me are better contributors to the company when we separate than when we first get together. I'm just proud of the fact that I've been able to develop people.
Current challenge at work: I came to the New York office from northern Kentucky a year ago. And for the role that I have and the jobs that I oversee, I've had absolutely no logical training. I have some research functions here, involving macroeconomics, the industry, the auto market and finance. So it was pretty intimidating to be completely outside of my comfort zone, but yet figure out what I could contribute in spite of not having that kind of background.
On a tough-guy mentor: I've been fortunate to have a mentor in my career, on an informal basis. He is a Japanese gentleman who is retired from the company now. He had a reputation for being very tough and severe and strict and dedicated to the organization, and he was intimidating to everyone around him. But for some reason I was really drawn to that. I worked for him, and it was very tough and challenging. But I had a realization at some point that he was spending all this time with me because he saw that I had potential to contribute more to the organization in the future. He wanted to make sure I was ready. Realizing that made me think I must have a bright future.
What you do to relax: I read a lot. I spend a lot of time pounding the pavement exploring the city. I love to cook, and I love watching sports on television -- golf, football and basketball.
-- Lindsay Chappell