JOB TITLE: 1. Expatriate manager, Product Planning Department at Toyota USA, Torrance, California; 2. Economist, International Institute for Economic Studies, Tokyo
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: I did crew all four years at Trinity, and a lot of great memories came from the camaraderie, shared struggle, hard-fought wins, and bitter losses. I still have a pile of competitor T-shirts somewhere. Traveling with the team to races, spring training, and Henley were wonderful experiences. I enjoyed all the time spent with my Trinity friends as we made the transition from teenagers to adults together. Trinity is a nice link for my family as well, as my father and brother are also alums. My favorite academic memory is environmental economics, which gave me a framework for thinking about individual and community interests that I have used throughout my career.
What do you do in your position at Toyota? I do product planning for next-generation vehicles and new concepts. My role is balancing the priorities of the various stakeholders, including engineering, design, manufacturing, sales, and finance. I need to understand the needs of the customer for each product: pricing, product features, driving dynamics, styling. There are various regulatory requirements that add complexity as well. I managed planning for Toyota hybrid, electric, and fuel-cell vehicles, as well as the project we did with Tesla to build the electric version of RAV4. In those projects, the ability to articulate environmental costs and benefits to consumers was key. I really enjoyed trying to figure out how to market cars that will help the environment, even though the amazingly low gas prices in the U.S. don’t help. It’s always sad to me when I read articles saying that a higher-mpg car is “not worth it.” I think if more people understood the concept of economic externalities, it might be easier to convince them that high-mpg cars are worth it; gasoline is not cheap when you consider the impacts to the environment and our national security. My current project is relating new societal trends such as “sharing economy” to potential future products and services. I enjoy working at a company that looks at the long term and genuinely wants to help make a sustainable future.
What are some of the challenges associated with working overseas? What do you like about it? I have learned a decent amount of Japanese at this point, but the language barrier is most noticeable when trying to make convincing arguments – and when trying to operate some appliances. I have a long list of likes; I guess many of them are related to living in a big, dense city with great food and a great transportation system. Living overseas, I am excited about the chance for my son and daughter to experience so much diversity early in their lives. I know it’s a challenge for them, but I am very proud of their positive attitudes.
What was your first car, and did it influence the work you do at Toyota? A used VW Jetta, which I had at Trinity. Although it had multiple leaks, it did influence my work; for example, VW has a different flavor of “fun” in driving dynamics than Toyota. It’s a good reminder of the different approaches to satisfying customers.
How did your experience at Trinity prepare you for your career? Economics has been a foundation of my career from graduation to now. I often relate the story of how I became interested in the subject at Trinity, where I learned that while, on the one hand, it seemed like Reagan’s “Star Wars” spending was a complete waste of money; on the other hand, at least the money was partially going to Americans working and investing in the defense-industry companies, who then spend that money in their communities, pay taxes, etc. Of course, I wish he had spent the money on something we could use occasionally, like maybe a high-speed-rail network, but anyway. Also, as an “ECON 101” teaching assistant, I learned how to explain the concepts, which can be even more important in a career than understanding them yourself.
How did you begin teaching yoga? While at Trinity, I joined the Tae Kwon Do Club with one of my close friends and after graduation continued through black belt. When I moved to Los Angeles, I transitioned into yoga, which, despite its differences from a martial art, uses the same foundation of balance, flexibility, and simultaneous awareness and relaxation. In Tokyo, I didn’t find a place with a good fit for me to practice, so at the urging of one of my classmates, I created a group on the website meetup.com. Usually practice is on weekends at Shinjuku Park with a mix of people from Japan and many other countries. I had always enjoyed teaching as a hobby, and it has been a great chance to meet people from different backgrounds; plus I feel like I am giving something back to the community that is hosting me here.