Joanna Dean, 44
Vice president of sales, Toyota Financial Services
Big break: Running the New Jersey office, the second largest in the company at the time
When Joanna Dean was an economics undergrad at the University of California at Irvine during the height of the dot-com bubble, she had an internship with Toyota while her friends landed what were then sweet gigs at Internet startups.
Just a few years later, all those college friends with the sweet gigs at those Internet startups were calling her for career help while Dean became immersed in the giant Japanese automaker and found an interesting and challenging home.
"I went with a classic," recalls Dean. "There was something about the people and the culture that I just fell in love with."
More than two decades on, that one-time intern is now a top executive at Toyota Financial Services — one who helped successfully reorganize and consolidate its dealer service teams amid the pandemic. She is committed to ensuring that those behind her receive the same kind of opportunities she had coming up.
"I came into this role in October 2019. Timing is everything, because we had a reorganization, we were launching a private-label brand [with Mazda] and we had COVID. So to say the last two years of my career have been the most challenging would probably be an understatement," Dean said.
The multiyear reorganization consolidated 31 field offices into three regional centers that allowed Toyota Financial Services to expand its hours of operation through the weekend, when dealers are busiest, as well as improve offerings for its dealer clients, Dean explained.
"One of the things that I'm really appreciative of is for all the support that I've gotten — you know, it takes a village, and it takes a team. I think that's probably one of the biggest things that I try to do now, in my role that I'm in currently in now that I'm in a position of influence, is trying to help bring up that next generation of leadership," Dean said.
She helped Toyota resurrect its former management trainee program — from which she had graduated in 1999 — as a way to encourage and develop future leaders.
"I know it took a lot of people taking chances on me to get where I am now, and so it's my small way of paying it forward," Dean said. "And selfishly, when you can put the right people on your team, it just makes your life a lot easier."
— Larry P. Vellequette