Peggy Turner more than meets the “10,000-hour rule” espoused by author Malcolm Gladwell in his acclaimed 2008 book, Outliers: The Story of Success. Over the course of thirty years with Toyota Motors North America, she has risen from parts and service sales, price, and logistics for the automaker to a vice presidential role—and is clearly an expert on cars and the people who make them.
In fact, simple math says Turner’s probably put in more than sixty thousand hours in a succession of roles with Toyota (and that’s not even counting the hours she spent in a prior job in the aerospace industry). She’s obviously someone who sticks to her goals and is recognized for it. And because she is not satisfied with simply being a vice president and executive advisor for social innovation at Toyota, Turner now sits on both a corporate board and the board of directors of a major nonprofit—two commitments that consume more time than many people realize.
The Auto Expert
“Social innovation” is the automaker’s term for diversity, equity, inclusion, and philanthropy. Turner’s job is to ensure a diverse talent pool within the company, and to provide a leadership perspective as the firm transitions to a more broadly defined “mobility company” (parlaying vehicle electrification into other products and services).
“The Latino population has grown from 16.3 percent in 2010 to 18.7 percent of the US in 2020,” the VP says, explaining that this marks the demographic as an increasingly important market. She adds that Toyota already has a leading position with Hispanic motorists. But of equal or even greater importance are female car buyers of all stripes. “Women purchase 65 percent of all vehicles, and influence the purchase of 80 percent,” Turner points out. “That affects design.”
But it should be no surprise that auto manufacturing and marketing is traditionally the province of men. Nevertheless, Turner was undeterred when she started with the company in the early 1990s, even though she was very much an outlier from the start. She moved on up through positions in parts and accessory marketing, new business development, distributor services (procurement and planning), supply chain strategy, real estate and facilities operations, customer relations, and Lexus guest experience and customer loyalty strategy. Turner knows cars, from the grill to the trunk.
And to be clear, the cars of today are quite different from when she joined the company. “Now we have a greater focus on safety and the environment,” she says. “Also, we maintain a laser focus on data analytics, particularly as it enables us to improve service and customer satisfaction. And with telematics (the technology embedded in vehicles), we can use data to analyze and inform individual drivers as to what they need to do to keep the car running smoothly.” Turner adds that data not only ensures better and timelier car maintenance but helps in the design of future vehicles.
Turner was and remains actively engaged in these innovations. She credits the company’s success with its embrace of kaizen principles, a Japanese term which roughly translated means “continuous improvement,” in its manufacturing as well as overall business practices.
Eager to Serve
Turner’s own career has reflected the idea of kaizen: in addition to her accomplishments within Toyota, she has been appointed as a board member for the Hispanic Scholarship Fund as well as for PRA Group Inc., a global loan acquisition and collections firm.
Her experiences for these two boards have been similar and at the same time quite different, Turner reports. “Of course the for-profit company pays me and the other asks us to bring in money,” she says. But in both cases, she says looking at the organization from a 50,000-foot level has required a change in her mindset, something that was an adjustment after her multiple decades of experience in the automotive sector.
Both positions carry significant amounts of responsibility, with a commensurate time commitment to boot. In her capacity as a board member for the PRA Group, Turner attends two day-long meetings every quarter for board and committee meetings, an annual stockholder’s meeting (the company is traded on the NASDAQ exchange), and ad hoc meetings for budget and strategy. “And that doesn’t even include the time required to prepare for meetings,” Turner notes. Still, she welcomes learning about an industry outside the one she’s worked in for decades.
Her work with the Hispanic Scholarship Fund is no less demanding. “I got involved with HSF because of my passion for moving the Latino community forward,” Turner says. “I enjoy sharing my experiences in board oversight functions. And I’m meeting people who are also on other corporate boards.”
Fortunately, Turner was well prepared for these board roles. Prior to securing her current seats, she participated in the Latino Corporate Directors Association’s “Board Readiness Institute” and 5050WOB “Get on Board” training. She also attended a seminar with Women for Economic Leadership Development (WELD) focused on board membership.
If Turner regrets anything in her career, it’s not getting involved in board leadership sooner. But she was raising a family alongside her husband, whose career was also demanding. Now, with their two sons out of school and gainfully employed, Turner looks forward to additional work in business and community leadership roles.
Turner might be an outlier, as Malcolm Gladwell would say. But she also has very much an inside track on getting things done.