Group vice president and chief legal and compliance officer, Toyota Financial Services
Ellen Farrell admits that, even after 22 years with Toyota in various high-level capacities — including being promoted this month to group vice president and chief legal and compliance officer of Toyota Financial Services — she still misses the courtroom. It was in that crucible, while she was a trial attorney with a private California law firm, where she first discovered Toyota, saw how it acted and its values as a company and realized the good she could do.
"You just got the feeling that it was a good company, and having friends that worked [at Toyota] in the legal function and confirmed that, that's what mattered to me," Farrell recalled. "I love practicing law, and I thought I was going to be a trial lawyer, but Toyota offered so many other things that more than made up for" not being in a courtroom each day.
Farrell's list of accomplishments within Toyota, its dealer networks and its communities is extensive, with a heavy emphasis on making sure everyone is treated fairly, opportunities and operations are equally inclusive, and where respect is given from the beginning.
Farrell is a member of Toyota's internal Social Justice Advocacy Committee and Executive Diversity and Inclusion Council, oversaw development of the fledgling Toyota Leadership Academy, and works closely with Toyota's Business Partnering Groups to ensure outside partners are diverse and representative of broader society. She also is the executive sponsor of the Plano, Texas, chapter of Spectrum, a group that drives enhancements in the workplace for the automaker's LGBTQIA+ employees.
During the pandemic, Farrell has focused on keeping her legal and compliance team enthused about the work that needed to be done, such as establishing Toyota Financial Services' private-label relationship with Mazda North America and Bass Pro Shops. She said the forced transition to video meetings and collaborations has allowed team members greater flexibility to balance their personal and work lives, and opened up the potential talent pool much more broadly. But it made her realize the value of in-person collaborations as well.
"You really have to engage people and keep them wanting to work because we had a lot going on," Farrell explained. "But I think we forget how important it is, how energizing it is, to get in and see people face-to-face."
Farrell, the daughter of a military family, grew up in the San Antonio area. She went to college in Houston before starting her legal career in Southern California, so Toyota's 2015 move to Texas was a bit "like coming home," Farrell said. "I left Texas not thinking that I was coming back, but North Texas is a wonderful community; it's very welcoming and there's a lot of energy here."
— Larry P. Vellequette