Rosa Santana, 62
CEO, Forma Automotive
Location: San Antonio
Education: Completion of two minority business executive programs, Tuck School of Business, Dartmouth University; and the advanced management education program, Kellogg School of Business, Northwestern University
What drew you to the auto industry? In 1981, I was recruited to work for an international staffing company. A branch of that company was based in El Paso, which is right across the border from Juárez, Mexico. El Paso, at that point, was a major distribution area for the auto manufacturing that was happening across the border in Mexico. The work that I did was provide lots of human capital to these companies in the automotive industry.
First automotive job: I became a supplier of human capital to numerous Tier 1 companies operating on the U.S.-Mexico border in 1982.
Big break: When I diversified and became more than a human capital provider. Toyota offered me an incredible opportunity to utilize our proven expertise in talent scouting and business management as a Tier 1 supplier, and they mentored us as we transformed into an outsourced contract assembly provider.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? I went from providing human capital solutions to automotive and other industries to becoming a Tier 1 supplier to an OEM. The greatest challenge in that was us not having knowledge or expertise, and actually doing the work. We had all the knowledge and expertise in hiring the people to actually do the work that we were hired to do, but not necessarily the experience. The wonderful thing about those challenges and the opportunity that was provided to us by the OEM was that we were surrounded by numerous people that wanted to become mentors to us that have been in the industry for a very long time, including our customer, Toyota.
You’ve been in auto manufacturing for six years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? The opportunity for growth for us has been amazing. The ever-changing, continuous improvement that occurs in the everyday life in manufacturing has been not necessarily surprising because the other businesses that I own are very similar, but it’s how fast you have to change and train and ensure that you know your processes are updated and that everybody is trained — utilizing the same data, utilizing the same information, so that you can deliver a quality product to your customer.
What work achievement are you most proud of? I’m most proud of being named the first Hispanic woman-owned direct Tier 1 supplier to Toyota. Without having any experience in manufacturing, per se, to be selected and given the opportunity to learn and to grow in this industry has been amazing.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? We shouldn’t let our guard down. We need to be more careful and definitely alert to anything that is communicated through the news media. It pains me to think that we heard that so much was happening in other countries, and we didn’t take any action. From a business standpoint, what I’ve learned is that we need to be more agile.
What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? More women like myself should tell our stories and should be involved in the recruitment of young women to enter the auto industry. Many of the women that we are hiring to work in our manufacturing facility, we are quickly putting them on development programs so that we can promote them as we grow and as they grow in skill sets and training.
Tell us about your family. I have two daughters. I have six grandchildren. Everything I do is around my family. I’ve built my business with my daughters. I am building this business for my daughters and my grandchildren to eventually take over if they’d like.
If there were 25 hours in a day, how would you spend your extra hour? Doing more one-on-one mentoring of team members. I think it’s really important that as leaders we impart a lot of what we’ve learned and the experiences that we’ve had — good, bad or indifferent — on our teams. I don’t think that people really understand the hardships that we as business owners go through unless they hear us talking about them.
— Audrey LaForest