Toyota CEO Lentz: Move to Dallas Region Opened Doors for Greater Community Involvement

For the second-straight year, a record crowd of business leaders attended the Dallas Regional Chamber’s Annual Meeting: The Future of Mobility. This year, Jim Lentz, CEO of Toyota Motor North America provided keynote remarks and discussed the rationale behind Toyota’s move to Plano, the region’s hospitality, and the future of transportation.

The event, which drew more than 1,500 people, was held Friday, Jan. 18, at the Hilton Anatole in Dallas.

Community Involvement

“Southern California has a big handicap, in terms of commute times,” Lentz said to The Dallas Morning News Publisher Grant Moise, who interviewed Lentz at the event. “One of the reasons that we knew we had to get out of California was just that. The balance between work and personal life was really difficult there. As a result of that, it was not uncommon for one of our team members to have to drive to 2.5 hours each way.

“You can imagine leaving at 5 o’clock in the morning, getting home at 8:30 at night. It made it really difficult to do things in your community because there is only so much time you spend with your family. And as a result of that, I think… It was more difficult to really have a robust community involvement.”

In turn, Lentz said, Toyota Motor North America – which is known for its community outreach – now has representatives on 26 different boards today.

Welcoming Community

During the conversation, Moise asked Lentz of his impressions the Dallas Region.

“So my wife and I’ve been here four years,” Lentz said. “We were part of what we call ‘the pioneers.’ I can tell you two things really stand out. Number one is, it’s great to see four seasons: It’s hot. It’s hotter. It’s ‘God, it’s hot out here.’ And it’s Christmas,” he joked.

Kidding aside, Lentz said the people of the Dallas Region have been exceptionally welcoming to Toyota employees.

“I lived in a lot of parts of the country, and I think Dallas is this unique blend of the hospitality of the South, of that pioneer spirit of the West, and the values that I remember growing up as a child in the Midwest,” he said. “People (here) are very genuine. They’re very friendly. They’re very open, and I think, especially (considering) moving your 2,800 people – most of whom had never relocated their lives…  Dallas has been so open to us. Such a warming environment, from kids in schools, and churches. It’s been a pleasure to move here. It’s been great.”

Lentz said his employees who have younger children tell him that they love the Dallas Region because they can ride their bikes in the neighborhood.

“When I grew up, that’s what I did all day long,” he said. “There are a lot of places in America where you can’t do that anymore.”

The Future of Mobility

When speaking of the notion of autonomous car-sharing, Lentz said he doesn’t think it will become as prevalent as many anticipate.

“Just because you can share something, doesn’t mean you’re going to,” he said. “I could share my toothbrush because I only use it two percent of the time, but it’s unlikely that I’m going to do that.”

Moise – a Toyota Supra owner during his high school years – used the occasion to ask about the relaunch of the car, 33 years after its retirement. (Toyota produced the Supra between 1978 and 1986.)

“Toward the end of its life, we couldn’t give those cars away,” Lentz joked. “Until it appeared in the “The Fast and the Furious” (movie). And it just exploded. I mean today, if you want to buy an (original) Supra, it’s $50,000 to $100,000. Now, the good news is, this brand-new car that comes to market in June is only $49,950. And it’s going to be a spectacular car.”

“We, North America, developed a concept car a number of years ago that we call the FT-1,” he said. “It was how we envisioned the next-generation Supra. The concept was originally built on a Tundra (pickup) platform. But it’s going to be an exciting car – turbo-charged, 335-horsepower – built in-conjunction with BMW.”

Incoming Leadership

Also speaking at the meeting was Chris Nielsen, Executive Vice President of Product Support/Chief Quality Officer at Toyota Motor North America. Nielsen is the 2019 Chair of the Dallas Regional Chamber Board of Directors.

“In beginning this new role, I thought, ‘Is there something that can be our defining issue – something we can look back on in 10 or 20 years from now with a great sense of accomplishment?’ I think the defining issue for us is education,” he said.

Also Friday, it was announced that John Olajide, Founder and CEO of Axxess, was named the 2020 Chair-Elect of the DRC Board of Directors.

“Under Dale [Petroskey]’s leadership, the Dallas Regional Chamber has become the best chamber organization in the country, and I gain tremendous value through my engagement with the DRC,” Olajide said. “I am honored and humbled by the Board’s recognition of my contributions, and I look forward to supporting Chris’ leadership this year.”

2019 Annual Meeting Sponsors

Toyota Motor North America was the Presenting Sponsor of Annual Meeting. Platinum Sponsors included Axxess, Thomson Reuters, and Wells Fargo. Gold Sponsors were American Airlines, AT&T, and Hillwood Development Company LLC. Silver Sponsors included Frito-Lay North America, FWD>DFW, Jones Day, and Slalom Consulting. Bronze Sponsors were Amegy Bank of Texas, BKD LLP, Capital One Bank, DFW International Airport, Fidelity Investments, McCarthy Building Companies, Inc., Oncor, PwC, Stantec, Texas Health Aetna, and The University of Texas at Arlington.

2020 Annual Meeting Announced

The DRC’s 2020 Annual Meeting, presented by Axxess, will feature keynote speaker Cynt Marshall, CEO of the Dallas Mavericks. The event will be Jan. 9, 2020, at the Hilton Anatole. Sponsorships, tables and individual tickets are on sale now.