One could say that Briana Nelson is familiar with change. Now General Manager for Toyota North America’s New York Sales Region, Nelson has held 13 different roles in five of the automotive company’s regional offices. For her, the opportunities for constant growth within Toyota North America mean work is never boring — although her people-facing roles themselves have hardly allowed for a dull moment.
In her sales work, Nelson collaborates with her colleagues and dealer partners each day to ensure Toyota customers have the best experience possible. As a leader, she prides herself on creating “an internal community that’s built on trust, transparency and genuine human connection” for her team and these trusted business partners.
Her passion for encouraging her colleagues — and providing role models for them that she may not have had — led her to help found Toyota’s WISE (Women in Sales Event). Now, with the help of other sales leaders, she advocates for women across Toyota's sales pillar, providing the tools and connections women at Toyota need to own their futures, including networking opportunities and workshops.
We asked Nelson what advice she has for other women who are seeking successful sales careers. She shared her insights into growing within a sales organization, connecting with colleagues on issues that matter and what makes Toyota an especially great place to work.
What led you to Toyota and what has led you to stay?
I was just graduating from Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa after studying Insurance and Risk Management, and I was excited to get my first “real” job out of college. I was interviewing with multiple companies, but it was how I was treated during the interview process that made me want to join Toyota.
I was pulled in by the "respect for people" culture. Now, I stay because of the opportunities to tackle new and different challenges. This July will mark over 24 years at Toyota for me. My career has spanned 13 different positions at five regional offices: Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Denver and New York. If you have the drive, Toyota will give you the means to pursue and fuel an epic career journey.
Tell me a bit about your career journey at Toyota.
I started out as a management trainee and a field traveler, where I travelled to different parts of Southern California every week. When there was an opening at our Boston Region, I jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the sales side of the business. Later, I joined the Management Development Rotational Program and transferred to our headquarters in San Francisco, where I was able to meet and network with many team members outside of the sales pillar. Having a wide network of team members in different areas helped give me new perspectives and ideas on the way I worked and the decisions I made.
After two and a half years at HQ, I moved just down the street to our L.A. Region, where it was the first time that I became a manager of managers versus a manager of individual contributors. This required me to lead and manage in a different way. Giving my team autonomy to determine what they should do created an incredible energy and allowed everyone to feel empowered to jump in and make decisions. After L.A., I became the Assistant General Manager of the San Francisco Region. This is where I really learned to hone my leadership style. My philosophy is that you can work hard but also have fun and laugh at the same time.
When I became the General Manager of our Denver Region in 2017, I was elated. This was a goal of mine that I had finally achieved. I am a big believer in modeling behavior and being true to who I am. Authenticity, transparency, communication, empathy and competitiveness are key attributes that describe my leadership style — and what has helped me grow my career at Toyota. In 2019, I was promoted to General Manager of the New York region.
Tell me about your current role. What are your main priorities or job functions?
In my current role of General Manager of Toyota’s New York Region, I manage the New York office and ensure our teams have what they need to grow and be the best in the industry. Teams in our Toyota and Lexus sales regional offices (14 in total) support over 1,500 dealerships across the U.S., not only aligning sales and marketing resources for our dealers but also ensuring our customers have the best experience possible.
My colleagues and dealer partners are probably my biggest source of energy. I get to work with motivated and passionate people who truly care about each other, our products and our customers. While we have a competitive environment, our people want to see each other succeed. As a leader, I try to cultivate a space where people can be their most authentic selves and share their ideas. Because of this, we have an internal community that’s built on trust, transparency and genuine human connection which inspires us to build those same relationships with our dealers and customers.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned along the way and what have they taught you?
I've learned so much in each position and geographic location. Early in my career, I wanted nothing more than to move up the corporate ladder as quickly as possible. I look back now and realize sometimes that isn't the best strategy. Allowing yourself time to slow down in each position will provide more experiences to build upon. Each new position doesn’t have to be a promotion. The more wide-ranging experience you get, the better team member and leader you will be in the future. I'm also a huge proponent of participating in projects that are outside the scope of your everyday job. I have been lucky enough to sit on committees that determined the future of the Management Trainee Program, field compensation and various women’s groups. Each project has given me perspective and helped me grow.
Tell me a little bit about your involvement with Toyota’s WISE (Women in Sales Event)? How did you get involved?
I have a favorite quote: “Empowered women, empower women.” Growing up as a woman in sales in the field, I didn’t have very many female role models to look up to. A year and a half ago, I came together with seven other women from across our regional offices to form the WISE council, to address that gap and create a support network focused on growing, recognizing and advocating for women in our sales field offices.
Last year, over 50 women from across Toyota's sales pillar joined us in North Texas for our first annual event. Through inspiring keynotes, panels, workshops and networking opportunities, we're providing the tools and connections women at Toyota need to own their futures.
This year’s event is currently being planned by past attendees, making WISE a true women-led, grassroots movement. I couldn’t be prouder to be part of an organization that recognizes the power of women in the workplace.
What challenges do you think women continue to face in male-dominated fields? How can we continue to support them and change the status quo?
I often hear that women don’t want to enter sales and marketing because they don’t have automotive experience. I didn’t have any experience when I started — that knowledge can be taught. The key to success in the field is being able to create and maintain relationships. We are in the people business, with the goal of assisting our dealers to improve sales and create guest retention. Our dealerships are all individually owned and operated, so you must be able to manage different personalities at each dealership. If you can do that and have a desire to help, you can be successful in this role.
What is the most memorable piece of career advice you’ve received?
Always be yourself. Be authentic. A good leader will surround themselves with people who compliment them, so you don’t need to be great at everything. I have a quote from Dr. Seuss that I like to use to describe this feeling: "Today you are you. That is truer than true. There is no one alive who is youer than you."
In other words, everyone has something to bring to the table — you just need to find the right table!
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