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Rebecca Vest

Nissan North America

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Vice President, Purchasing, Nissan North America
Franklin, Tenn.

Age: 49

Education: B.B.A., business management, University of Kentucky

What attracted you to the auto industry? I was graduating from college in Lexington and the big employers in the region were Xerox and Procter & Gamble. But Toyota was building its plant there. My favorite professor recommended me to Toyota. My father urged me to take the job because, he said, "You'll never get the chance to start a new plant again." So I took his advice.

First automotive job: I was a buyer in purchasing for Toyota in 1988.

Big break: Coming to Nissan and becoming VP of purchasing. I decided several years ago that I wanted to run my own purchasing team, and Nissan gave me the opportunity to do it. I didn't take the decision to leave Toyota lightly, but Nissan has allowed me to grow professionally.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? I was promoted to this job in February 2011. Thirty days later, the tsunami and earthquake hit Japan. Moving into this position meant being thrown into a natural disaster and a global crisis. I learned a lot quickly — how to work globally to solve problems and find solutions. You have to react quickly and develop a team who can manage through the crisis. My goal was to minimize the impact of the crisis on our supply base. Our downtime would cause our suppliers pain and suffering. So I strived to keep production going in this region to help them.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? My father had a lot of influence on me. He was an HR expert and always talked to me about the way you should work and why it's important. My dad had the respect of all the people who worked in his manufacturing plant, and he taught me about respecting the role each person plays. I also had the benefit of working with Gene Tabor in the early days of purchasing at Toyota. He became my career role model. He's retired now, but I learned so much from the way he worked with suppliers and the way he acted in the workplace.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? This industry gets a bad rap. You can touch and see cars, and they are extensions of our personality. And yet for a lot of women, it's just about manufacturing and it's not glamorous. I think we would benefit from educating young women about what automotive is really about. It's not just about making cars but about designing and marketing and financing. It's awareness of the field.

Tell us about your family. I've been married 19 years, and my husband's name is Lance. I have two sons, John, who is almost 16, and Ben, who is 12. They're very active in their schools, so when I'm not working and traveling, we spend a lot of time together at sports events and school events and church.

What's your favorite weekend activity? I'm a runner. During the week, I have to run indoors on a treadmill. But on weekends I get to go out in the morning and go for a long run. Five to seven miles is long for me. I also love to cook on the weekends — things that require a knife and fork to eat.

When and where was your last vacation? My family goes every summer to Amelia Island in Florida. We go over the Fourth of July week for the fireworks and celebration.

If you could have dinner with anyone, living or dead, who would it be? George Washington. I would love to sit with him and hear his beliefs on liberty and freedom and the founding of the country. I'd like to know how he persevered and motivated his men to do what needed to be done in the midst of huge adversity.

Name one talent you wish you had. I wish I could dance. My ballet training as a child didn't stay with me, much to my mother's regret.

By Lindsay Chappell

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