Terri Von Lehmden, 41
Vice president for transformation and strategy, Toyota Motor North America
Big break: One of five people on the team that scouted out and led Toyota Motor North America’s move to Plano, Texas
Here’s a surefire way to tell if someone has an important job and is trusted in that role: If there’s a huge,
future-altering corporate secret — say, a plan to move everything and everybody 1,500 miles east — is that person on one of the earliest and most secret of planning committees?
That was the case with Terri Von Lehmden, 41, Toyota Motor North America’s vice president for transformation and strategy. When the company spent three years uprooting from its home near Los Angeles and moving to Plano, Texas, Von Lehmden was on an initially secret, five-person committee to make the potential transition as easy as possible for thousands of employees. The effort, she said, was done while adhering to one of Toyota’s guiding principles: respect for people — in this case, those thousands of employees.
“My current boss, [Chief Human Resource Officer] Cheryl Hughes, was leading it, and I was part of a small group of five of us that, before anybody knew, we were scouring the country looking for the next best thing, and trying to find where our new home was going to be,” Von Lehmden said.
When the move was finally finished, Von Lehmden said 65 percent of Toyota employees had followed the company to Texas, nearly triple what experts had predicted. The high numbers are a testament to Toyota’s way of doing business, she said. “I think you’d be challenged to find a more dedicated group of team members.”
When Von Lehmden was starting her career, she cut her teeth in human resources, working as the in-house HR rep for the second shift as thousands of unionized workers cranked out hundreds of Jeep Cherokee XJs each night in Toledo, Ohio.
“That was one of the best experiences to have as a way to learn,” Von Lehmden recalled.
Even then, working in the late 1990s for what was then DaimlerChrysler, she was a self-described “auto industry nerd.” Her father had been an executive at another Detroit automaker. She spent the next several years spanning the globe, working in far-flung places including Stuttgart and Beijing, and in different areas of the industry, including a stint as a regional dealer representative in southeast Ohio — each new job and location adding a layer to her experiences.
“That really helped develop me as an individual,” she said. “To see this industry from the manufacturing side, from a seat on the corporate side and from the sales side, it gave me a real sense of this cyclical industry.”
— Larry P. Vellequette