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Leah Curry

Toyota Motor North America

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Vice President, Toyota Manufacturing – Indiana, Toyota Motor North America
Princeton, Ind.
Age: 54
Education: Studied chemistry at University of Evansville; completed a three-year internship in industrial electronics to be a skilled maintenance team member

What attracted you to the auto industry? I was working for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Evansville. When Toyota came to town, I thought it looked like a great company with good job stability. I took a pay cut of $400 a week to come here. But automaking looked interesting because it was fast-paced and competitive and global.

First automotive job: I entered Toyota in 1997 to be a team leader in maintenance and body weld, working on all the equipment. We didn't have the plant yet, so I did a lot of traveling, to Japan, to Kentucky, to learn how it all works.

Big break: When an opening came up, I took the chance to move out of the maintenance field and into production, and then into new models. It was not being afraid to try something new. It helped make me better suited to go into management.

What is the major challenge you've faced in your career? I've learned over the years that you have to get out of the way of yourself. Sometimes women are their own worst enemies in their careers. We sometimes are so critical of ourselves and put undue stress on ourselves to overachieve every goal. I turned down opportunities in my previous company because I worried about what people might think. When I came to Toyota, I decided I'm not going to ever do that again.

Who has had the biggest influence on your career? Susan Elkington had this position before me as vice president of manufacturing. She gave me a lot of mentoring over the years, as a woman in a leadership role — not just insight into managing, but managing as a woman. She's now on assignment in Japan, but we stay connected.

What should be done to encourage women to enter the auto industry? It's going to take a continuous awareness effort. I'm an advocate of bringing more women into manufacturing in general. I recently participated with a program in the state of Indiana, called "Dream It. Do It." to encourage manufacturing awareness. I was one of the champions for that. We brought teachers and students and parents in here and talked to them about the different careers that are possible and the money you can make. We're actively recruiting females into careers here in auto manufacturing.

We have a paid internship program with kids coming out of high school. We help them get into engineering and maintenance. I also learned that we weren't reaching out to the children of our team members to learn about careers, which we now encourage. We're putting out the word.

Tell us about your family. I've been married more than 30 years. We have four children, three boys and a girl, ages 29, 28, 25 and 23. The youngest is living at home. We adopted her from Romania when she was 3. Two of the boys work in automotive. My husband has always been a great support to me and very understanding about what it takes to be a career person. We've always shared responsibilities with the kids and housework and everything else. I also have six brothers and sisters, all living around here. We're a very close-knit family.

What's your favorite weekend activity? We will have a family get-together and do relaxing things. Have a cookout, go swimming or play cards. In a couple of weeks, we're going to rent a cabin together down near Nashville.

Best advice you've ever gotten? I'm thinking of two pieces of advice I've received. One was, listen to feedback with an open mind and an open heart, because it's free. The other helped me in giving presentations, because at Toyota, we make presentations all the time. It was from one of my managers, who told me, "You know this material better than anyone here, so give it with confidence and give it from the heart." That helped me stop shaking at the microphone, and I've told other people the same thing.

By Lindsay Chappell

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