- Tell us about what you do at your company
As the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK), I lead an amazing team of nearly 8,000 team members at Toyota’s largest manufacturing facility in the world – which can produce up to 550,000 vehicles a year.
Our talented team builds the Camry, America’s best-selling sedan for seventeen years in row, the Avalon sedan and the only Lexus manufactured in United States, the ES350. We also build hybrid versions of all three of those vehicles. Beginning in January we will be adding the Rav4 Hybrid to our line-up of Kentucky-built products. Beyond vehicles, we also produce 4-cylinder and V6 engines at our facility with an annual capacity of 600,000 engines.
- How do you define leadership?
When I define leadership, I like to focus on both the innovative and transformational aspects. Leadership should bring people from different life experiences together to accomplish a common goal. It is my belief that this type of leadership is the result of a service-oriented attitude, a passion for your work, and an actionable vision for the future.
- What was your biggest professional challenge and what did you learn?
In 2014, I took a three-year assignment at our global HQ in Toyota City, Japan. I was only the second non-Japanese manufacturing executive and the first female to serve as a global division head – supporting the fifty plus manufacturing facilities building Toyota and Lexus products around the world.
My biggest takeaways from this assignment include the realization that true success only happens after failure and you must have the willingness to take risks in order for both to happen. Also, innovation is more about doing or applying things in a brand new way versus coming up with a brand new thing.
- Is there an achievement or contribution that you are most proud of?
Being selected to serve as president of our Kentucky plant (TMMK) was something that early in my career I would have never thought possible. For over 30 years, TMMK has been producing some of the best vehicles on the road. I now have the privilege of leading our team through a transformational period as we prepare for the next 30 years of manufacturing. To prepare, we are focusing on generational changes in the workforce and how we can continue to embrace technology and constant innovation that will help us do our jobs more efficiently. Being able to help set the stage and develop the leaders who will take us into this exciting future at Toyota is a contribution I most proud of.
- What is one thing that people might be surprised to know about you?
I grew up on a farm in southern Indiana and as a child I was taught more about baking cakes and pies than about how an engine works.
- What inspires you?
More than anything, people inspire me the most. When I see examples of what seems impossible, turned into possible, it gives me energy and drive to continue pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. Examples of this type of boundary pushing attitude are all around us. The Toyota team members, who I serve, inspire me daily with their visionary improvements and innovations right on the production lines. They also inspire me with their stories of what led them to a career at Toyota. I often find that many of them, like myself, came to Toyota without a manufacturing background.
Susan Elkington will speak at the Women Leading Kentucky Roundtable on October 10, 2019. As president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky, Inc. (TMMK) since 2018, Elkington oversees a $7 billion operation, which employs nearly 8,000 people, and in a year, can produce as many as 550,000 vehicles and more than 600,000 engines. TMMK is Toyota’s largest production facility globally, producing the Camry, Avalon and Lexus ES 350 (including hybrid versions of all three), plus four-cylinder and V6 engines, in Georgetown, Kentucky.
Elkington joined TMMK in January 2017 as senior vice president, overseeing the plant’s manufacturing and administrative functions. Prior to this role, she served as general manager, Production Control Division at Toyota Motor Corporation’s (TMC) global headquarters in Toyota City, Japan, supporting Toyota’s 53 manufacturing plants worldwide.
Elkington began her career with Toyota in 1998 in Princeton, Indiana, as an assembly engineering specialist. By 2013, she held the position of manufacturing vice president at TMMI.
She serves on the board of the Prichard Committee, is a Kentucky Chamber of Commerce board member and a member of the executive committee, a STEP Ahead Honoree (2014) and ATHENA of Southwest Indiana Award Finalist (2013).
Elkington earned her mechanical engineering degree from the University of Evansville, in Evansville, Indiana.