Leading the Way

TFS mentorship program propels women-owned businesses

June 20, 2017
Inaugural Team -- After a positive experience working together, Toyota Financial Services’ Diverse Business Mentorship Program mentors and mentees look forward to growing the program.

When Rashmi Chaturvedi was chosen to participate in a mentorship program with Toyota Financial Services two years ago, she knew she hit the jackpot. Access to experienced corporate mentors was just what she needed to take her small business to the next level.
“Blending my technology background with their strategic guidance has helped me think differently about our business,” says Chaturvedi, president of Kaygen, an information technology consulting and staffing company. “We grew 20 percent in the first year just by growing within our existing customer base, something I hadn’t considered doing before. Kaygen also has been recognized for its growth and excellence by many organizations, including Inc. 5000 and U.S. Pan Asian American Chamber of Commerce’s Fast 100.”

Chaturvedi is one of 15 women-owned companies chosen for TFS’ Diverse Business Mentorship Program since it launched three years ago. The program matches five mentees per year with two TFS executives who provide guidance and insight on navigating corporate culture and operations.

TFS partnered with the Women’s Business Enterprise Council (WBEC)-West in California the first year and launched the program in Texas in 2017, partnering with WBC-Southwest and the Plano Chamber of Commerce. It’s looking to expand the program in Texas with more partners in 2018.
The community outreach effort was designed to help women-owned businesses improve their operations and sharpen their approach with potential corporate clients.
“As TFS participated in supplier diversity conferences, it was clear women and minority business enterprises (W/MBEs) were innovative and offered relevant solutions to today’s business challenges,” says Stacia Kato, vendor management consultant at TFS. “But many lacked the polish of large-scale sales and marketing organizations, so their requests for proposals (RFPs) didn’t stand out against a larger supplier.”

Trail Blazers -- (front row, from left) TFS mentor Linda Iannone, mentee Caron Ng and Juliana Wong, formerly of TFS, partnered with (back row, from left) consultant Lily Otieno, Dr. Pamela Williamson and Summer Sepulveda, both of WBEC-West.

Confidence Builder
Mentee Caron Ng, vice president of business development at NU-SET Lock, knew she could benefit from networking and needed help developing a business plan and exploring pricing options. Her mentors encouraged her to enroll in an entrepreneur certificate program, where she crafted a business plan, and suggested she consider new markets to sell her lock products. Those new channels now include real estate brokers and Amazon, and revenue is up by $2 million.

“I’m so grateful for their guidance,” says Ng of her mentors TFS Chief Compliance Officer Linda Iannone and former TFS National Risk Manager Juliana Wong. “It’s given me a lot of confidence to try new things. I’m giving back now and mentoring three women entrepreneurs. It’s really rewarding when you see them succeed.”

TFS mentees dove deep into Toyota Way principles including respect for people, putting the customer first, continuous improvement and genchi genbutsu or “go and see,” which included a trip to the Long Beach Port where vehicles disembark. The Texas class plans to visit the Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, (TMMTX) plant in San Antonio to see lean Toyota Production System (TPS) practices in action.

“What really stands out for me is Toyota’s values and respect for vendors and customers,” says Chaturvedi, who was mentored by TFS Chief Technology Officer Geraldine Ramezani and Group Manager Billie Jo Johnson, Enterprise Project Management Office. “Quality and customer service are so embedded in everything Toyota does. It just opened my eyes to something I think was there, but I wasn’t emphasizing.”

Dr. Pamela Williamson, president and CEO, WBEC-West, says access to senior-level TFS team members and their willingness to help mentees grow regardless if they could do business with Toyota were two big drivers for partnering.

“We wanted to partner with an organization that was respected throughout the corporate world, and when you look at the progress and improvements our women have experienced, I think their stories tell it all,” she says.

The program also was beneficial to the TFS mentors, who enjoyed seeing their mentees grow personally and professionally. They also had fun exercising their entrepreneurial muscle in new ways, and strengthening their leadership capabilities.

“They enjoyed it so much that they asked to participate in subsequent programs and became advocates for incorporating diverse suppliers into the supply chain,” Kato says. “We’re excited about the opportunity to grow this program in Texas and make a difference in the communities here.”

By Karen Nielsen

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