Pat Pineda: How She Got to the Top at Toyota

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At 63, Patricia Salas Pineda is a bundle of energy as she runs around Miami this week representing Toyota at one of the nation's largest Hispanic events, Hispanicize. This mother of three has spent 30 years at Toyota and holds a key spot as one of the highest ranking women and THE highest ranked Hispanic at the company. She is in Miami because she leads the Hispanic Business Strategy Group, which focuses on strengthening Toyota's already existing ties to the Latin community.

Pat talked with me about how she got to the top of her company and offered advice to other women.

Most important, she says, plotting a successful career path involves being open to opportunities within different areas of a company. In her case, during her 30 years at Toyota, she has held positions in the legal department, with the Toyota Foundation and now she is group vice president of Hispanic business strategy for Toyota Motor North America  “I feel fortunate to have spent my career with a company that supported my career and offered me different opportunities.”

Pineda says she became a Latina executive in an industry where there were very few women holding senior positions. Some acquaintances called her a “trailblazer.” Her family and friends used another word to describe my career choice: “crazy.”

I prodded Pat to find out just how she managed the climb at Toyota while raising three children.

This trailblazer was with Toyota a decade before having children, which she says allowed her to prove herself and become confident in her role. “I was one of the first female managers and proud to be among a group of women throughout Toyota’s companies who were moving up through the ranks.”

Having help at home and a supportive husband who worked from home helped with the work life juggle. “It made my situation much easier. But that’s not to say it was without challenges.” Her children now are 28, 27 and 22 and she’s optimistic about other women at her company successfully balancing work and family. “It is possible to enjoy a family life and have a successful career.” 

Pat sees positive changes ahead for working parents, particularly because of the mindset of young managers in her workplace. “The younger men want to be more engaged fathers. They are less reluctant about taking time to go to their son or daughter’s event. I think that’s helpful because they are more sensitive to others with demands at home.”

In her rise to leadership, Pat was guided by male mentors inside and outside of her company. She came in contact with those outside her company through board positions. “Serving on external boards gave them an opportunity to observe me in action. They were able to help me obtain other key board positions.”

Today, Pat serves on the Board of Directors for Levi Strauss & Co. and is a Corporate Advisory Board Member for National Council of La Raza and an Alumni Trustee for The Rand Corporation.

With the benefit of hindsight, Pat says she would tell young mothers not to worry about what others might think about their choices. She remembers worrying about who might see her leaving for a medical appoint or whether to work from home because it was the nanny’s day off. “I wish I had worried less because it was really unnecessary.”

By staying with Toyota, Pat has brought the company tremendous value. She was chosen as one of the 25 most powerful Latinas by People en Español in 2014: “Across the roles I have had, I've been good at developing external relationships that have been helpful to the company.” Her relationships span from the Hispanic community, to the non-profit world, to elected officials to the media. “I have shared with them the wonderful things Toyota is doing. I think that’s why the company has been so supportive.”

Often, Pat finds herself counseling young mothers who are thinking of leaving the workplace. “I tell them, 'don’t make that decision now.' ” Most women have thanked her for encouraging them to “hang in there” and have gone on to success in their jobs. “That’s not to say staying doesn’t have consequences but I think a lot of women make that decision sooner than is prudent.”

 

Pat Pineda’s Career Climb From present to past:

* Group vice president of Hispanic business strategy for Toyota Motor North America, Inc. She leads the Hispanic Business Strategy Group (HBSG), which focuses on strengthening Toyota's already existing ties to the Latin community

* Head of the Toyota U.S.A. Foundation, overseeing national philanthropy efforts

* Toyota Motor North America group vice president of corporate communications and general counsel.

* Vice president of human resources, government and legal affairs and corporate secretary for New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc. (NUMMI), the corporate joint venture between Toyota Motor Corporation and General Motors Corporation,

 

The Work/Life Balancing Act

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