The number one driver of culture is leadership. After a recent tour of Toyota’s largest American manufacturing plant located in northern Kentucky, it’s clear that Wilbert W. “Wil” James is steering his 8,000-team members in the right direction. Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Inc., aka the Mother Plant, produces 500,000 vehicles per year including the all-new 2013 Toyota Avalon, 100 million service parts per month and procure $10-11 billion per year in sales.
“At Toyota, we think about culture everyday. One of the basic tenets of Toyota … we call it the ‘Toyota Way’ – everybody working together to produce the highest quality car at the lowest cost. It takes people working together and trusting one other to make it happen,” shares James.
In July 2010, James was appointed president of TMMK. His Toyota career spans over two decades with significant progressions. He came to the plant from the Indiana facility in Evansville, where he was senior vice president for Manufacturing and quality since 2008. Prior, he worked in Long Beach, California, where he was President of TABC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Toyota Motor Engineering & Manufacturing North America, Inc. He joined TABC in January 2006 as senior vice president of Operations and was promoted to President in January 2007.
“We’re constantly monitoring the morale of our workforce and communicating, actively getting them to engage and get their suggestions on the table. We empower team members on the line. I am not sure how much you know about typical manufacturing settings, but the line doesn’t stop until the bell rings. Along our production lines, we have the Andon cord for anyone who has any concern about the quality of their work, their safety … pull the cord, stop the line. It’s one of the most empowering tools we have around.”
James boasts that his team members were instrumental in designing the sleek new Avalon. “One of the things that Akio Toyoda did was empower all of our regions to take on more responsibility and autonomy for the design of our vehicles. It is intuitive to expect that our vehicles meet local customer’s needs in a better way if you have members who represent and are an integral part of the population you are designing for.”
A graduate of Old Dominion University, James serves as Toyota’s representative on the Board of Affiliates for the National Society of Black Engineers. He also is a member of the Board of Regents for Kentucky State University, Academic UpRise and Toyota’s diversity champion for TEMA. James currently serves as chair for Lexington’s Arena Task force working closely with Mayor Jim Gray.