(Editor’s note: The March issue of The Lane Report features our semi-annual list of the Top Women in Business. At lanereport.com, we’re shining the spotlight on one of the honorees each day. Up first: Susan Elkington, president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown, Ky., Toyota’s largest plant in the world.)
Our occasional feature, Top Women in Business, highlights some of the women in and around Kentucky who are making an impact in business, the professions, politics and economic development. The intent is to recognize not the household names, but those in key roles whose work ethic and body of work are making important contributions to commerce—and life—in the area.
The 12 women featured in this issue are among the many such women The Lane Report editorial board has identified. From automotive manufacturing plant president to hospital executive, and economic development director to law firm leader, these women are forging their own paths, proving that hard work, perseverance and creativity pay off. And for the first time in this series, we’re shining a spotlight on some of Kentucky’s top female television personalities, offering a glimpse behind the camera.
Susan Elkington began her career with Toyota in 1998, working as an assembly engineering specialist at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana. Twenty years later, she was named president of Toyota’s largest plant in the world, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky in Georgetown, a 9 million-s.f. plant with nearly 10,000 full-time employees.
Title/company: President of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Kentucky (TMMK) in Georgetown, which produces the Camry, the Avalon, the RAV4 Hybrid, and the Lexus ES 350 and 300h.
Previous positions: Before being promoted to president of TMMK in 2018, I served as a senior vice president there. I have also worked as the general manager over the global production control division at our parent company, Toyota Motor Corp. (TMC), in Toyota City, Japan. I began my career with Toyota in 1998 at Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana.
Education/training: Degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Evansville.
Top accomplishment: When the economic crisis occurred in 2008, I worked at the Toyota plant in my hometown. I was a first-level executive, and when production halted, many team members, including myself, had uncertainty regarding whether we would retain our jobs. I often thought about the potential impact that decision would have. Thankfully, Toyota preserved employment for all employees. It was then that I committed that during my career at Toyota, I would do everything I could to secure production for the plants near my hometown and other hometowns across the U.S. Today, I lead Toyota’s largest plant in North America, and I am doing just that. Toyota Kentucky has been part of the Kentucky landscape for the past 35 years, and now I get to be a part of defining its future, impacting generations of Kentuckians.
The person(s) who most influenced or mentored me: It started with my parents, who fostered my curiosity and independence and then supported me when I failed. A high school teacher convinced me to study engineering. Within Toyota, I have had mentors teach me how to be an effective leader through their actions.
My biggest challenge and how I overcame it: My biggest challenge has been either overcoming my perfectionism or my self-doubt. I often set a high expectation for myself and want to do the best for others. I realized the desire for perfection kept me from opportunities because I kept thinking I wasn’t quite ready yet or it was just not the right time. Someone then asked me, “What happens if you do and you succeed?” This question led me to think about the possibilities, and I quickly realized failure is often not as disastrous as I once thought. You learn from it, you pick yourself up and you go at it again.
My advice to younger women in business: Take time for selective networking. Find good mentors and sponsors who will challenge you. Be willing to ask the question, “What if I succeed?” And once you answer it, dare to take the necessary risks.
As a child, I wanted to be: A teacher. One skill everyone should have: The ability to empathize. Being able to relate to others personally is critical to being a good leader, coworker, friend and human being.
Favorite TV show I’ve been watching recently: “The Crown.” My husband is English so we have enjoyed watching it together.
A song from my childhood/ teenage years that I still rock out to when no one else is around: “Sweet Child of Mine” by Guns ’N Roses