Elena Antaya, 46
Vice President of Corporate Purchasing, Toyoda Gosei North America
Location: Troy, Mich.
Education: B.S., engineering, University of Michigan; MBA, Wayne State University
What drew you to the auto industry? I grew up in the Detroit area, and my father encouraged me to pursue the auto industry because I was strong in math and science.
First automotive job: In 1995. An internship with General Motors, as a supplier development engineer within the purchasing organization.
Big break: Early on in my career, I was asked to be a business planner for a director in purchasing. At that time, I was able to observe a lot of executives, go to a lot of meetings and just be exposed to a lot of things that staff levels, that management, had to deal with. It was a very interesting role — very demanding, a lot of hours — but I was able to learn a lot from a lot of different leaders.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? Balancing personal life with the aspirations of what I want to do in my career and trying to find that balance — the timing of it all, balancing that timing — and when to aspire for more and push myself for more, yet balancing that personal aspect of it.
NEWSLETTER: Sign up for Lead the Way, our monthly Leading Women Network newsletter highlighting ways to educate, mentor and empower women in automotive.
You’ve been in the industry 25 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I’ve seen a lot of change with opportunities for women, especially in the management and leadership areas, flexibility and more prioritization of allowing people to have balance in their personal life. Technology has been a great tool for all of us to be able to use to allow for that flexibility and that balance.
Describe your leadership style. My leadership style is very much about learning and teaching and coaching. I spend a lot of time with my team on coaching and development as well as leading by example. Actions speak louder than words, and I really try to help mentor and develop my team members in order to make them stronger and be able to follow up on items.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? Take more chances early on and not be afraid to take different opportunities as they come. That can be a struggle for a lot of women, too. There’s usually a certain path, and if you don’t feel like you’re ready for it, we tend to hesitate to take that leap. I would just think of it differently now in retrospect, that it’s OK to take the leap and learn as you go.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? There are already some really good programs now related to science and engineering to help younger women consider the auto industry. We could do a better job publicizing all of the different types of roles that women could play and that aren’t science-based. There are business-related fields, there’s HR, there’s sales and marketing, and design and creativity. Some of those fields aren’t necessarily associated with automotive. There’s still the idea that it’s primarily manufacturing and engineering.
How do you bring your best self to work? I make the decision on how I want to perceive the day, so I think a lot about what I’m grateful for at the beginning of the day and that helps set the tone for my attitude for the day. The whole perspective of gratitude is an amazing tool to use.
Are you able to achieve work-life balance? I am. Our company is really good at supporting us with flexibility and the tools that we need to be able to work from different locations. Prior to COVID, I traveled a lot, but I was able to schedule the travel based on my personal schedule.
What’s your favorite weekend activity? I like to exercise. I’m obsessed with Peloton right now and then when I’m done doing that, I like to spend time with our family and get together with friends, have a nice dinner and just hang out.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last year, and what did you get out of it? American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins, and what I got out of it was the sacrifices that people make in order to provide a better life for their families.
— Audrey LaForest