Toyota Running on Latina Power
Pivoting in times of crisis is nothing new to Toyota. As one of the most successful automotive companies in the world, it is also a great place for Latinas to work. The San Antonio plant of Toyota like everywhere else was hard hit by the Coronavirus. Its employees, its suppliers, and business partners who directly provide services to the company were directly impacted by the pandemic. Toyota Motor North America experienced a temporary shutdown but quickly established new work from home policies, and put into place extensive COVID-19 safety protocols throughout their plants. Through it all, the company remains strong -thanks, in part, to its San Antonio, Texas-based employees and a team of experts including Luisa Casso, Leticia Garza, Estefania Davila-Lopez, Summer Valadez, Giovanna Ramos, Stephanie Martinez Garcia, Stephanie Melchor, Zaira Dalila Sotelo, Valerie Molina, Martha Rodriguez, and Roxanne Soto. In addition to their dedicated workforce, Rosa Santana, the first and only Latina direct tier 1 supplier to Toyota, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Santana Group and Forma Automotive, along with Lisa Navarro-Gonzales, Vice President of Santana Group, and Vice President of Forma Automotive, and Genevieve Cruz, Training Specialist at Forma Automotive, play a major part in Toyota’s success during times of crisis.
As Toyota works hard to assemble trucks, they also work hard to assemble a diverse team of employees. Located in the heart of the Lone Star State, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas (TMMTX), embraces the culture that surrounds it in the deep south side of San Antonio with a 69 percent Latinx workforce. Women make up 17 percent of their employees, breaking down the stereotypes that plague this traditionally male-dominated industry. By committing to increasing their numbers of women and people of color in their ranks, TMMTX is reaffirming their two pillars of respect for people and kaizen, or continuous improvement. The ingenuity and strength it takes to continue leading in the auto industry is sure to grow at pace with their diverse employees.
Manager, Corporate Communications
Toyota Motor North America
“I never thought I was going to be in the corporate world,” shares Luisa Casso, Manager, Corporate Communications at Toyota Motor North America. “I saw myself primarily in grassroots. But, I have truly enjoyed and aligned with the opportunity to make a difference in peoples’ lives because I believe in that philanthropic work. The partnerships corporations have with government and non-profit organizations are the collaborations that really impact long-lasting change.”
The recession in the early 2000s occurred and life changes to Casso also happened. This is when her corporate career began at Coca-Cola. Now, with over 20 years of public affairs experience in the private, public, and non-profit arenas, Casso is the manager of corporate communications for Toyota Motor North America, Inc. In this role, she leads a dynamic team of professionals responsible for the external and internal communications for Toyota Texas. In addition, the team oversees community, media, and the Visitor Experience Center. They are dedicated to advancing the workforce and education strategy to ultimately strengthen and uplift the Southside of San Antonio.
“In my career, I’ve always had professional opportunities that have never been monotonous,” she states. “Every day is different. I have the wonderful opportunity to work with different groups at Toyota whether that be leading with philanthropic opportunities, promoting our cooperative programs, cultivating on-going relationships with local government every day is different. There is always something challenging, whether internal or external and that is very exciting to me.”
Prior to Toyota, she served as Director of Public Affairs and Communications with The Coca-Cola Company, which brought her to Texas in 2010. Previously she also served as chief of communications to Mayor Jim Baca in Albuquerque, New Mexico. As President, CEO of the Downtown Action Team she led a community-driven, public-private partnership to revitalize Downtown Albuquerque.
Having lived most of her life in New Mexico, Casso moved to San Antonio 10 years ago and today she feels she was destined to be there. “My father grew up in San Antonio and when I was younger, he would always talk about the people in San Antonio. He always had a tear in his eye because he missed it so much,” she shares. “I ended up here and I felt at home. When I was brought to Texas, I had a choice, Austin or San Antonio. When I made the right decision, I knew it was meant to be. I knew it in my heart.”
Passionate about philanthropic endeavors and giving back to the community Casso is grounded by faith, kindness, honesty, integrity, and lives by the motto: kindness is a simple act of respect. And demonstrating kindness to others through empathy and passion comes naturally to Casso.
“I think we, as gente, are loving people, we are kind people and that serves us as professionals because we can bring people together and that is a gift that I have,” she shares. “At Toyota one of the things I have appreciated is learning a new way of conducting business. As a professional, I am using my varied experience and talents as a convener and communicator in the Toyota Way. We are a company that is grounded in Respect for People and that comes naturally for me and my fellow Latinos.”
Today Casso serves as an example for others to follow. For Casso, it is important for everyone to know that success is achievable for anyone.
“I believe that as women we have the responsibility to be great, but as Latinas, we have the responsibility to our hermanidad and to our hermanitas to make sure that we reach back and help them advance so they can walk through the doors that we have opened and achieve even more that we have in our careers.”
A COVID-19 survivor, Casso lives her life day by day. According to Casso, despite testing negative now after a few weeks, she still gets headaches and is fatigued. Despite it all, she lives with a grateful heart.
“I hope that when people see me they say that now that’s somebody that I want to know,”. “Somebody that I want to work with, that she is a good person. That’s what I strive for.”
Senior Analyst, Production Volume Planning
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
Born in Zacatecas Mexico, and raised in Bryan, Texas, Estefania Davila is the Volume Planning Senior Analyst at Toyota. Recently promoted to this position, Davila is responsible for developing strategies for annual volume planning taking into consideration the company and team member’s best interest.
“From the actual volume, I generate yearly, monthly, and daily production plans,” she shares. “Also, in order to keep up with demand, I study current plant capacity and work the corresponding production shops to understand how we can Kaizen or create continuous improvement.”
Graduating Texas A&M University in 2013, Davila started working at Toyota after graduating. She earned her first opportunity to work for Toyota as a co-op student through the University’s engineering career fair. After graduation, she applied for a full-time position and the rest is history.
“I am proud of being promoted to a senior analyst and proud of my current role because it allows me to create strategies and to work with executives in decision making for the best interest of TMMTX,” she shares. “Diversity is important in the workplace because through our different values and experiences we can provide different perspectives and skills to achieve the company’s goals.”
At work, dealing with COVID-19 in her current role means having to adapt and managing changes that occur many times a day. In her personal life, the biggest challenge was staying away from family and not being able to visit them, and planning a wedding while dealing with all the uncertainty. But, she is trying to make the best of it by unplugging on the weekends and doing outdoor activities like hiking or even binge-watch her favorite shows.
“One of the best parts about working for Toyota is how much they care for your development, I really appreciated that even as a co-op. Toyota invested highly in my professional development,” she shares. “I also love seeing a vehicle come together from understanding back from where the vehicle order was created to seeing Toyota Tundra and Tacoma trucks out of work and knowing we all had some part in the process of getting that truck for the customer driving it.”
Zaira Dalila Sotelo
Engineer, Plastics Pilot
“Growing up I was good at math and enjoyed physics and science,” shares Zaira Dalila Sotelo, Plastics Pilot Engineer at Toyota. “After graduating high school my mother took me to the community college and told me we were not going to leave until I signed up for classes. I am thankful that she took me. At first, I wanted to go into the medical field, but I quickly changed it to engineering after I saw what I would be able to learn. “Cool stuff” on how things work, robots, thermodynamics, and outer space exploration.”
Plastics Pilot Engineer Zaira Dalila Sotelo began her career at Toyota eight years ago as an intern in Assembly. In her role, Sotelo is responsible for launching new models in her department.
Born in California of parents from Zacatecas, Mexico, Sotelo studied Mechanical Engineering at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She then moved to San Antonio Texas and worked as a co-op for eight months and had the opportunity to work on various projects with multiple engineers.
“After my co-op, I moved back to Las Vegas, finished school, and graduated with my Mechanical Engineering Degree,” she shares. “I then interviewed for a full-time position in plastics and moved back to Texas. It has been a great and challenging experience at Toyota.”
One of Sotelo’s latest and greatest accomplishment is being able to increase the capacity of a paint booth with little investment. What this means is that she is able to paint three bumpers in 60 seconds instead of one in 60 seconds.
“I worked with maintenance on building a prototype jig and programmed the robots to paint these parts,” she shares. “I am very happy that I have been able to make a major impact at Toyota.”
Stephanie Martinez Garcia
Analyst, Corporate Communications
Toyota Motor North America
As a Corporate Communications Analyst at Toyota Motor North America, Stephanie Martinez is a Latina on a mission and eagerly leverages her 14 years at Toyota with dedication. “Working for Toyota has changed the trajectory of my life and my ability to provide for my family and in some cases, my extended family,” she shares.
Born in San Antonio, TX, and raised in Floresville, TX, Martinez Garcia is responsible for meeting the community demands and expectations in this world while meeting the company values and image. Martinez Garcia’s career at Toyota started on the production line and she was one of 200,000 candidates to get her foot into the door. She always knew she wanted to learn more and do more and saw those opportunities available at Toyota.
“My greatest accomplishment is that I take it back to starting in the production line and not giving up and moving into this space I am given now, which is administration and working on the corporate side,” she shares. “It caused me to step out of my comfort zone and one of the things I am most proud of is that I am responsible for our million-dollar investment that goes out to the community every year and strategizing to be most effective and impactful with those dollars, and also changing the lives of the community that surrounds Toyota.”
Prior to Toyota, her first job was at the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office (morgue). “I learned about Forensic Science and all the interesting things that come from it,” she shares. “I thought maybe someday I’d go to further my education in Forensic Science, but by that time, I had rent and a car to pay and I liked having my own money. I would eventually leave due to the commute. Luckily for me, Toyota was coming to town and my dad said one thing ‘Just apply, get in there and figure it out, it’s a great company that has great benefits’. And here I am today.”
Today, Martinez Garcia feels grateful to have learned the meaning of servant leadership through Toyota. For her, service is not just serving on a board and checking a box.
“Service means going out and serving that organization by providing them with not only your time but your skills, your voice, and your ability to help an organization be sustainable and successful,” she shares. “I’ve been fortunate enough to help organizations understand how to problem-solve and the ability to understand continuous improvement. In my opinion, being an effective board member doesn’t mean you give the most money or don’t ever say anything, it’s how do you help an organization be better and serve their community better.”
Her goal is to grow and to keep developing within Toyota. “I get inspired and thrive when I see our company making a difference in the lives of some of the most impoverished areas of San Antonio,” she shares. “Another goal is to help our company grow in understanding how best to address People of Color issues.”
She currently serves on the South SA Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors focusing on Education & Workforce Development in the southern sector of San Antonio.
Analyst, Internal Communications
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas
Born and raised in Brownsville, Texas, Stephanie Melchor is the Internal Communication Analyst at Toyota. She is responsible for crafting employee communications, writing speeches, and scripts on behalf of the president and other members of the executive leadership
“Overall what I am most proud of is the fact that I have built trust with our executives at Toyota and to be able to capture their voice,” she shares. “At this point, I know exactly their tone, their voice, and I am able to translate that message. That allows our team members to understand how much the company cares about them.”
Melchor’s career at Toyota began five years ago while she worked as a co-op, which is a full-time paid intern. Fast-forward to 2015, while she was in her last semester in College, her mentor at Toyota gave her a call and suggested she take her job since she was leaving the company.
“I’ve been able to create a lot of new processes and bring a lot of new communication tools to our plan based on everyone’s willingness to trust me, so I think that I really appreciate the fact that I am a valuable member of the team,” she shares. “The fact that I am valued regardless of my age, I think it’s really important to know that I started when I was 23 and now I am 28 and it’s only me, the one responsible for internal communications.”
Melchor hopes to keep building on her communications skills and project management skills to grow into a more community involved role and to serve a greater cause. She is passionate about social change. Outside of Toyota, she dedicates much of her time to advocacy efforts. Most recently, she led the creation of a Vanessa Guillen mural, the soldier who was murdered by a colleague at a Texas army base. What started off as a small project, a commemorative shrine hosted at a local coffee shop, turned into something much larger when Melchor and her co-organizer were moved by the hundreds of sympathy cards left in Vanessa’s honor. They knew their community needed a more permanent space to honor the slain soldier. Melchor wants the mural to serve as an ongoing conversation about violence against women. Melchor is finalizing a “mural kit,” where she packaged up the resources, she used to organize the mural and will pass them to others for free. She hopes this will inspire others to create Vanessa Guillen murals in their cities too. In addition to this project, she contributes to different organizations. Melchor sits on the MOVE Texas Board, an organization dedicated to ensuring young people of color are registered to vote. She also sits on the City of San Antonio’s Affirmative Action Committee, ensuring The City is reaching diversity and equity goals.
During COVID-19 times staying in tune with herself, feelings, and face time with her family has been a lifesaver. “COVID has changed the way that we live,” she shares. “The pandemic has brought us closer and has allowed me to slow down, so reflecting and journaling has been my coping mechanism.”
Skilled Technician, Paint
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
“I first started as an intern and got my associate’s degree through a program partnered with a local community college and Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas,” states Summer Valadez, Paint Skilled Technician at Toyota.
“Growing up in a very traditional household made it difficult for them when I chose a profession generally associated with “man’s work”, my grandparents raised a brow. A year later and they couldn’t have been prouder with the choice I made in my career. Their granddaughter breaking traditions and starting new ones while still maintaining some traditional ways.”
Born and raised in San Antonio, TX, Valadez has been working at Toyota for about five years and is responsible for maintaining the equipment in the painting department. From various robots to conveyor systems and more, her hands are more than full on a daily basis.
Although she didn’t see herself working in a male-dominated manufacturing industry she is proud to be where she is and it is one of her greatest accomplishments. Another accomplishment she feels proud of is to have changed the culture as one of the first women in her department.
“The men I work with were not ready for a female and that quickly changed after I showed that I was hardworking and determined and a good employee,” she shares. “That has changed and now we have two more women and now they are known to be the most knowledgeable. I definitely impacted the shop initially making life changes and having a female presence was a positive impact. It’s great to see they are noticing more women at Toyota.”
The best part of working for Toyota is the relationships she has built throughout the years with her peers and the rest of the team. “We are like a second family because I see them as much as I see my family,” she shares. “We work with high-voltage stuff and heavy equipment so it can be dangerous and having a team member there that helps and watches out for you is very important. It also builds that safety culture that Toyota builds in you.”
Her aspiration is to be happy, to be strong, to build on the foundation she has founded, and be an advocate for anyone who doesn’t have a voice.
“My greatest achievement is that I have not just survived every obstacle put in front of me, but I have thrived, having come out stronger,” she shares. In family, I have helped raise and am still raising my teenage sister, as well as an advocate and caretaker of my mentally ill mother. There is so much to be done in the world and I know it starts with a voice. If I can be that person that someone can relate to, then I am glad to have made that connection.”
Production Planning Sr. Manager
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
“I did not grow up envisioning working in a manufacturing company or that I would choose it as a career,” shares Leticia Garza, Production Planning Sr. Manager at Toyota. “My goal was to become a nurse, as I love helping people.”
In this role, Garza is responsible for Managing 23 On-Site Suppliers, production volume planning for both TMMTX and service parts, and exports (Tacoma parts to the Toyota plants in Mexico). Her role as a Senior Manager is training and developing, supply chain management, coordinating and communicating major change points with Toyota SR Managers and executives, internally and externally.
Prior to working for Toyota, Garza was a registered dental assistant. Relocating to San Antonio 21 years ago, Garza was born and raised in Three Rivers, south of San Antonio, TX.
“I can clearly recall the night my husband and I were watching the news when they announced that Toyota would be coming to San Antonio,” she shares. “I immediately told my husband that I was ready for a career change and was going to apply when they started taking applications. As soon as Toyota announced they were accepting online applications, I immediately applied and was hired about eight months later. Six months after starting, I was promoted to a team leader and that’s when I knew that working for Toyota would be my long-term career, as I would still be able to accomplish my goal of helping people, just in a different way.”
“My goal at work is to continue to learn and build confidence in my current role so that I can be a valuable resource to the team,” she shares. “Develop the team to support them in achieving their goals. In addition to work, I am focused on taking online classes and Northwood University to further my education. My aspiration is to train and develop people. I would not be where I am today if I did not have great coaches and mentors to support me throughout my career. Therefore, I pay it forward by mentoring those that reach out for support.”
Today Garza serves as a mentor and coach to other Latinas. Her passion is training, developing, and supporting other women in achieving their goals.
“I would not be where I am today if I had not had great mentors and coaches to help me along the way,” she shares. “Now it’s time for me to pay it back to others. You get opportunities, you give opportunities.”
Garza is also part of a TODOS business partnering group (BPG), which is a Toyota organization for the development of Latinos. In addition, she dedicates time to Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota (WIIT) as the development of women and others.” For Garza, the best part of working for Toyota is the endless opportunities Toyota offers for growth and advancement. Toyota has supplied her with a college education at little to no cost and has sent her to many other leadership programs to help with her development and increased her business network with other leaders inside and outside Toyota.
“I started off as a team member in 2006 and have been promoted five different times since I started here,” she shares. “The opportunities are there and there are people to help you along the way if you’re making the ask. Toyota has also provided me and my family with a life that I never would have imagined as a young Latina growing up in a small town and raised by a single parent.”
Today, COVID times have shaken many lives and Garza tries to keep a positive attitude as she stays focused and takes care of herself and family, trying to live life as normal as she possibly can. At work, her advice is to “keep open communication with the team, and ensure they have the support they need to get through these challenging times.”
Giovanna K. Ramos
Team Leader for Quality Inspection Pilot
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc. Giovanna K. Ramos is the Team Leader for QI Pilot and is the Spectrum BPG Vice-Chair and TMMTX Ambassador at Toyota. She was recently featured in a COVID safety ‘Return to Work’ internal video at Toyota, where she shared her sentiments about new safety measures taken in the plant to mitigate the spread of the virus after a seven-week production shut-down. Her example aided in easing the fear that some fellow co-workers may have had as they faced resuming a rigorous work schedule as an essential worker during the pandemic.
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Ramos is proud of her accomplishments both at Toyota and in life. Prior to Toyota, Ramos was employed as a Correctional Officer for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice and worked at an all-male maximum-security prison.
“It was definitely a shift but I have to say that it’s kind of made me the person I am today,” she shares. “The growth that I see in myself is because they push you at Toyota to be the best you can be. They give you opportunities to excel in whatever position you are in. They present these opportunities to develop our careers along the way. In doing these projects you are able to get better management skills and make yourself visible.”
Celebrating nine years at Toyota, she is grateful for the opportunities and considers it a “wonderful career opportunity.” Today Ramos is one of the few who gets to see the new models of trucks in production, but with this also comes the responsibility of daily standards and training.
“We travel to see them being made in the design facility and we come back with all the information, pictures, and standards that we put in place before the model comes to this plant so there is a lot involved in it,” she shares. “We have a big role in making sure that new models that come our way are transitioned smoothly into the plant. I am so excited to be in the position that I am in because you get to work with everybody. My position focuses a lot on quality and the product that we are sending out to our customers depends a lot on whether or not I did my job.”
Currently serving as Vice-Chair of Toyota’s Spectrum Business Partnering Group she hopes to someday serve as its Chair. “I would like to become a Group Leader in the near future,” she shares. “I would also like to eventually pursue a position within Toyota as a Diversity & Inclusion Specialist.”
Ramos has been the recipient of the Above and Beyond Recognition Award from former TMMTX President Joe Da Rosa. She recently completed the Team Leader to Group Leader Program, which allows her to apply for management at Toyota.
As the pandemic hit the world, Ramos not only followed precautions at work as her peer have done so but has made being outdoors part of her lifestyle. Whether it’s riding a bike or going fishing, she is proud to also do her part in staying safe outside of work.
Analyst, Human Resources, Team Member Relations
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
A mother of two boys, Valeria Molina, an Analyst for the Human Resources investigations team at Toyota started working for the company in 2009. From behavioral issues to performance, Molina is an advocate of Toyota’s employees and setting them up for success.
For Molina, the best part of working for Toyota is the opportunity to keep learning.
“I love the fact that it is a learning company and everyone always has an opportunity to learn different things to expand their knowledge and to make improvements,” she shares. “For me, I’ve been given the opportunity to work in several opportunities within human resources and that has increased my knowledge and skills. The company has allowed so many people like myself to grow within the company.”
Prior to Toyota, Molina worked in the mortgage industry. She recalls the day she walked to the manufacturing plant and was amazed by everything. “I thought this was really different than anything I’ve seen before,” she says. “When I was hired, I knew here is where I wanted to stay for a career. I am grateful to be where I am.”
Born and raised in the southside of San Antonio, Texas, Molina attended Palo Alto College for two years. Today she is thankful to her parents and grandparents for instilling values such as hard work and eagerness to learn at a young age.
“I think of my grandparents who came here from Mexico and my grandpa wanted to get settle and find a job. My parents and grandparents have always been hard-working,” she shares. “I think of my mom every time I hear or see the phrase Si Se Puede, she always used to say it.”
Molina looks forward to continue her learning and be challenged every single day. Most current, she was part of the contact tracing team during the breakout of COVID-19 earlier this year and today she enjoys spending time with her family and being outdoors. “Outdoors is my coping mechanism,” she shares. “Walking and unplugging from computers and logging off everything is what I do.”
She is most proud of becoming a Society of Human Resources Certified Professional, her service as the Chair of Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota, having a successful career, and building a beautiful life with her family.
“One thing I think that has led to my success is never turning down an opportunity because every opportunity given is an opportunity to learn whether it’s learned from failure or learn from successes,” she shares. “I’ve been in five different roles within my career at Toyota, eager to take them all because I’ve seen them as stepping stones. Not stepping stones to reach a certain level or position but stepping stones to growth. With that being said, my goal is to never stop learning and continue to share knowledge with others and if it’s at the President’s level – I’d gladly accept.”
Production Group Leader, Assembly
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas
A changemaker with 15 years of experience at Toyota, Assembly Production Group Leader Roxanne Soto started her Toyota career on the Frame Side at the age of 25. Since then she has taken the time to grow within the company and understand Toyota’s mindset and business practices.
“I wanted an opportunity and I saw that in Toyota,” she shares. “I remember that when they came to San Antonio, there were so many people that applied, and I honestly thought I was not going to get hired, but I was going to try regardless and it was just a blessing to be chosen.”
Inspired by her daughter to work in a male-dominated field, the automotive industry, Soto wants to show her daughter and other women that everything is possible.
“We have no walls or barriers as long as we strive and work hard for what we want,” she shares. “My greatest accomplishment is to encourage others to grow. I really want to help develop others and give them the opportunity that I was given.”
For Soto, bringing a personable approach to the team is important. It is through this approach that she feels she brings her Latino values to the company.
“I am open for opinions and face to face interactions with my team,” she shares. “Without them, we can’t build our trucks. They are our heart and soul.”
Soto also credits her success to her support system, which is her family.
Production Team Leader, Paint Pilot
Toyota Motor Manufacturing Texas, Inc.
With 14 years of experience at Toyota, Martha Rodriguez is the Production Team Leader of Paint Pilot at Toyota. In this role, she prepares the process or the line for the newest model, making sure her team has the correct tools they need and the training to ensure a smooth transition from one model to the next model.
Prior to Toyota Rodriguez worked at a credit union and when Toyota opened in San Antonio in 2006 she thought she had to change her path and apply for a job at Toyota.
“When I applied online and got hired I wasn’t sure what I would be doing,” she shares. Luckily with Toyota, they train you and teach you, so it was a very good experience working here.”
Today she is grateful for the support, encouragement, and mentorship from many peers and leaders.
“After 6 months I was encouraged to be a team leader,” she shares. “The push on helping develop me led me to the path that I am on.”
For Rodriguez, the best part of working for Toyota are the people and having to work with so much talent. Born in San Antonio, TX, her goal is to work for Toyota for 30 years or as long as she can.
“My aspiration is to help build a better vehicle for the customer while helping the team member on the line have a smooth transition from model to model,” she adds.
Founder and Chief Executive Officer
Santana Group and Forma Automotive
The first and only Hispanic-woman-owned direct tier 1 supplier to Toyota, Rosa Santana is the founder and CEO of Forma Automotive, which provides fully assembled truck beds to Toyota, and the Santana Group, a group of companies providing transformational outsourcing solutions to organizations across all industries.
Renowned for her efforts as a trailblazer, she has embraced her Hispanic and woman-owned business distinctions and strives to empower other women through serving on local, regional, and national boards, including the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce (USHCC) as a board and executive board member, the Latino Business Action Network (LBAN) on the board of directors, and the Women’s Business Council Southwest as a board member.
For over 39 years, Santana has been a driving force within the U.S./Mexico staffing industry and is recognized internationally as an outsourcing solutions expert. Today, Forma Automotive is also performing assembly work across the border, specifically in Guanajuato, Mexico. And, although she has been doing business in Mexico for over 30 years, she had never operated a manufacturing company as she is doing today.
“Going into manufacturing work is different,” she shares. “There was a lot we had to learn before we got there, but we now have a full operation under Toyota’s roof, and we are doing well with providing fully assembled truck beds for them while ensuring we attract and retain skilled team members.”
According to Santana, one of the advantages that Forma Automotive has as a supplier is its sister company, Integrated Human Capital, which provides staffing solutions to businesses in the U.S. Pairing staffing with manufacturing, she can deliver the talent necessary to build high-quality products for her customers.
“We are very excited and very grateful for the opportunity,” she states. “More importantly it has allowed us to diversify and grow our group of companies, and we’re very proud of the continued growth.”
This growth allowed Santana to remain optimistic during the outbreak of COVID-19, and the unique approach and strategies she and her team developed were key to ensuring that operations could continue during and after the shutdown.
“It’s always been my firm belief that when you invest in people and technology during an economic downturn, you are probably going to come out at the top,” she shares. “And I chose to do that once again.”
Santana’s typical workday changed as did the uncertainties. Shortly after the outbreak of COVID-19, Forma’s customer instituted a plant-wide shutdown to ensure the facility was safe for all team members before resuming plant operations. Suddenly, Santana’s number one priority became keeping her team safe and healthy from the coronavirus while remaining ready to resume production for Forma’s customer when the time came.
“I have a great passion for my personal and business families, and I want to ensure that they all have great futures,’ she shares. “This means always exceeding our customer’s expectations and making decisions with respect for people.”
Vice President of Santana Group and Forma Automotive
From operations leader to Vice President of Santana Group and Forma Automotive, the first Hispanic, woman-owned direct Tier I supplier to Toyota, Navarro-Gonzales oversees production, accounting, material management, and quality assurance.
Like her mother, Rosa Santana, Navarro-Gonzales is an active participant in the San Antonio community and has completed the Business Executive Program at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth as well as the Harvard Business School’s Young American Leaders Program. She credits Santana, founder and CEO of the Santana Group and Forma Automotive, for the values and work ethic instilled in her.
“She is a great example of what we are doing for Latinas,” she shares. “My mom has always been a go-getter, and that is what really inspired us.”
With dedication, she has always strived to be better, growing the businesses her mother started. “I can attribute a lot to my mom’s tenacity to always wanting to continue to grow,” she shares.
When COVID-19 hit, Navarro-Gonzales, along with her team, knew procedures and operations would need to pivot, a change that entailed shifting most of the administrative team to work from home. However, with 57 team members assigned to the assembly line that was not currently in operation, Navarro-Gonzales understood the importance of being able to leverage the trust she had built with her team and being flexible.
“I found myself working different hours,” she states, “A lot of it has to do with trust, and we had to learn to be flexible. There are certain areas where it is not sustainable to work from home for a long time from a quality perspective. We are not a huge company and there are different tiers of team members working in different departments. Trust and flexibility are very important.”
Navarro-Gonzales believes embodying the culture of familia at Forma has been important in cultivating a workplace that allowed her, during this critical time, to leverage the trust the team had built together.
“We always try to embody the family roots because we want to retain our people,” she shares. “Nobody is just a number to us. Everybody is an important part of our business and of the processes that we complete to output a truck bed. Not one person is of less value. We all play the same part in getting a good quality part for our customers.”
Born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Cruz is responsible for training new hires from Integrated Human Capital (IHC) and also training current Forma team members.
Celebrating three years at Forma Automotive, she never saw herself in the automotive industry, yet she always had a passion for STEM, even at a young age.
She believes her Latino roots and values shaped who she is, and it was her parents who gave her the motivation to keep going. “I saw how my family was. Sometimes we would struggle. Sometimes we wouldn’t, so they gave me the motivation to keep fighting no matter what.”
This motivation has been evident amid the challenges the pandemic has presented, and she has been a key team member at Forma, exemplifying what it means to pivot. From training new team members to jumping onto the assembly line herself when needed, Cruz has made it clear that she isn’t one to shy away from a challenge.
She describes the opportunities at Forma Automotive as a blessing and amazing. “One of my proudest achievements was being given the opportunity to be the Training Specialist for Forma Automotive,” she states with pride. “In this role, I was able to see the change in our conditions and versatility, and I was able to help our new team members by preparing them for their careers with Forma.”
Cruz’s goal is to use her full potential in her position to help push others to succeed in furthering their careers and to give new team members who come to Forma the confidence to succeed, even if they don’t have experience in the automotive industry. She also hopes to continue to advance in her career with Forma Automotive and continue to make an impact.