Nearly four years ago, Julie Hamp was announced as Toyota's first female senior executive. Three months later, her seasoned career in communications had collapsed.
Upon arrival in Japan, she was arrested at a Tokyo hotel on suspicion of illegally importing the painkiller oxycodone. She was released three weeks later, having never been charged, let alone convicted. But between the scandal of the arrest and the detention that kept her from being able to serve CEO Akio Toyoda, she chose to resign at the peak of her profession.
Like Carlos Ghosn's arrest years later, Hamp's case shocked the auto industry and shined a light on some of the peculiarities of Japan-style law and order.
"I love our justice system in the United States," she told Automotive News.
Now she's back at the wheel as the newly appointed chairman at Motus One, the fleet-management company known until last fall as Event Solutions International.
The move, she said, combines a "lifelong dream" of serving on a board of directors with a return to the "ever-evolving, complex-but-fascinating" auto industry.
But the role isn't limited to the boardroom.
Hamp, 59, will oversee the company's strategy, development, staffing and training, while striving to ensure the company exceeds the expectations of automakers and other clients, as well as the automotive media community Motus One primarily serves.
She was chosen for the job by Motus One CEO Mike Jackson, who had worked with Hamp at prebankruptcy General Motors where he was the North American vice president of advertising and marketing, known for splashy events, such as the music and fashion runway parties before the Detroit auto show and Cadillac's close ties to the Oscars.
"Julie is a longtime friend and confidant that I respect, who also understands the marketing and communications landscape better than anyone I know," Jackson said. "Her experiences and passion for excellence are second to none, and her ability to value and inspire diverse teams to excel is unparalleled."
Motus One has dual headquarters in Troy, Mich., and Los Angeles and is owned by investment firm Broidy Capital Management in California.
Jackson, who is based in California, said the company generates more than $17 million in annual revenue. Jackson said Hamp will split her time between both headquarters, and will visit the company's offices in Washington, San Francisco, Dallas and elsewhere.
Her arrest and departure from Toyota are still hard to talk about, and she declined to discuss details of the ordeal, which she characterized as a "disorienting and confusing time."
"It was very, very difficult on my family and me," she said. Hamp and her husband of 33 years have two daughters and a granddaughter.
Despite the way her stint with Toyota ended, she said she "loved the company and my work experience there."
The automaker's values of respect toward others, standardized processes and continuous improvement stick with her to this day, Hamp said.
"When we launched a newsroom in Toyota, for instance, I would pretend to be the journalist and evaluate how easy it was to gather information to put my hypothetical news story together," she said. "To track our improvement, we set ourselves benchmarks because Toyota, like myself, is a big believer in benchmarks."
Hamp's goals moving forward include making sure that journalists and digital influencers are provided with the best service and that Motus One offers quick solutions to customers.
Quick, consistent service should get a boost as Motus One continues a multiyear partnership with Tourmaline Labs, an artificial-intelligence company in San Diego that gives Motus One access to its platform, she said.
"There's a lot of automation, which takes the time out of the process," she said. "It makes it a standard process that's followed, and as I learned from Toyota, standardization helps eliminate waste while reducing variation.
"This technology really enables that, but it also requires training, recruiting and hiring people that are comfortable with using technology. Therefore, another goal is to get to know the 200-plus employees of Motus One and give them the most support that Mike and I possibly can to help them do their job as best they can."