Sandra Phillips Rogers, 54
Group Vice President, General Counsel and Chief Legal Officer, Chief Diversity Officer, Toyota Motor North America
Location: Plano, Texas
Education: B.A., journalism, University of Texas at Austin; J.D., University of Texas School of Law
What drew you to the auto industry? I was an outside counsel working in a private law firm, and I had the opportunity to represent Toyota in the unintended-acceleration recall litigation. Once I had a chance to get to see Toyota’s people, culture and products up close, then I was hooked. And they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.
First automotive job: As outside counsel in 2010.
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Big break: One of the big breaks in my career was getting a chance to work for Toyota as an outside lawyer and help them navigate probably one of their most complex, important business and legal challenges ever. I think whenever you have a chance to lead at a time where it really matters, that’s an opportunity to show what you can do.
What is the major challenge you’ve faced in your career? One of the challenges that I’ve faced has been around the subject matter of the work that I’ve managed because most of my career has been involved in complex company legal and business challenges; trying to find the right structure, putting together the internal and external team, coming up with a strategy that aligns with the business. Beyond that, the other challenge is being a pioneer, being an agent of change. I’ve come into organizations during my career where I was asked to do something transformative, such as moving the legal team here to Texas.
You’ve been in the industry 10 years. What has been the most important change you’ve seen? I think the most extraordinary change is how we’re transforming to be a mobility company that’s focused on connected/autonomous/shared-ride/electrification. The fact that this automotive company finds itself really as a technology company, I think that’s extraordinary, and I think the opportunities are endless. But it definitely is something that I think has required all of us to think differently.
What work achievement are you most proud of? Before this year, I would have said getting through the unintended-acceleration crisis or perhaps the move to Plano. But now, I think it’s how we’ve been able to manage and contribute to get through COVID-19, with all of the various state and local ordinances and what was coming from the federal government, and how we had to focus on keeping the team members safe and coming up with the right protocols for that. I’m extremely proud of the role that legal played.
What do you struggle with? I want to do everything, and I want to do everything today, tonight and tomorrow. I struggle with having a big appetite to do things but limited resources and bandwidth to get it done. That’s always been my struggle. I have found, though, as I’ve advanced in my career, ways to pace myself and prioritize. But if I’m honest, I struggle with that I like to see change and I like to be a part of change. And when change doesn’t happen rapidly, sometimes I find myself getting frustrated, but what I do is turn that frustration into more intention and more purpose to get it done.
Describe your leadership style. I try to lead from the front. I like to model behavior. I like to set a vision, get down in the trenches and help bring it to reality and try to motivate and encourage my team to go along with me. I don’t like to ask people to do things that I would not do myself. But in that process as we set our vision, I have a great leadership team that I totally trust to carry forward that vision and to do the work to fulfill it.
What have you learned from the COVID-19 crisis? What I’ve learned is that we really are all in this together. If we ever thought that one side of an organization or one side of a community could solve something on their own, think again; every aspect of COVID requires teamwork at every level, and that’s what we saw at Toyota.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in your career? I wish I would have taken a little bit more time to smell the roses — not just the roses on vacation, but the roses within the organization where I worked. I wish that I had taken the time to really get to know people at a deeper level. Whether it’s law or diversity and inclusion, you can get caught up in the issue of the day. And while I’m pleased and proud of the relationships that I’ve made, I look back and wish that I had taken the opportunity to really get to know people better because there is never a day that goes by where connection with someone else isn’t important to help me do my work. Also, I wish I would have taken more vacations.
— Larry P. Vellequette