James George, 40
Deputy COO, Toyota Connected
Big break: Getting what he called “Executive Training 101” from three top executive vice presidents at Toyota Motor North America
A year ago, James George was an up-and-coming young executive at buttoned-down Toyota Motor North America, working as a top aide to three of the automaker’s top executive vice presidents in a situation he describes as “Executive Training 101.”
Working since last July as deputy COO at subsidiary Toyota Connected in a glass-walled office in a nearby upscale mall — with computer programming engineers dressed in flannels and T-shirts and jeans — couldn’t be more different.
COVID-19 and social distancing have largely emptied his office, just down the street from Toyota Motor North America’s sprawling headquarters in Plano, Texas. But the work being done by George and his team is even more vital to the automaker: They are delivering the next generation of electronic innovations to Toyota and Lexus vehicles.
A native of Southern California and a self-described “lifelong fan” of Toyota, George’s current role is to help guide the Toyota Connected innovation machine into products that make business sense and help Toyota Motor North America.
“I joke that I just turned 40 and I’m probably one of the elders in the company,” George said.
“We have a really incredible, talented pool here of over 200 people who work for this company. They’re young, they’re hungry, they’re brilliant and they’re mainly comprised of software engineers and data scientists, so I’m a little bit of a fish out of water, because I come from TMNA and my background isn’t necessarily in technology,” he said. “But I think the value that I bring is helping; I let them do their job — they’re the ones who know how to code — but my job is really from a management standpoint in the steering and business planning.”
Most consumers likely will never know the role George and his colleagues at Toyota Connected will play in their Toyota and Lexus vehicles, but their satisfaction will come from how Toyota Connected’s products will enable consumers to have an ongoing relationship with their vehicle, George explains.
“I think we’re now moving into this era where we ask, ‘How well does a vehicle know me personally?’ It’s this idea of, ‘How does this vehicle help my day-to-day life?’ And this is where Toyota Connected plays a role,” George said. “It’s creating experiences that are predictive, intuitive and contextual where, ultimately, we want a customer to just use our products and say, ‘Wow, that is cool.’?”
— Larry P. Vellequette