Want to Be a Stronger Leader? This is What You Need to Prioritize

Sponsored by Toyota North America

Photo Courtesy of Toyota North America.

Photo Courtesy of Toyota North America.

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April 14, 2024 at 2:20AM UTC

No one understands the automotive industry’s age-old tradition of innovation and creativity better than Janette Hostettler. As the Vice President of Production of the new start up joint-venture, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing (MTM), Hostettler works with teams to produce cars using innovative technologies and processes.

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Encouraging the innovation necessary to create on the cutting-edge of an industry requires excellent leadership, a skill Hostettler has developed over her 20 years in the male-dominated space. She considers herself a servant leader who always puts her reports first, and says the culture at MTM and Toyota reflects her own dedication to championing diverse opinions no matter what part of the chain of command they come from. In fact, she has flipped her own organizational structure so she is at the bottom — something she says represents her role as the foundational support of her team.  

Hostettler has other advice for leaders who want to motivate the best results from their team — and act as a mentor along the way. She shared those tips, along with insights into how she prioritizes her day and what candidates should know about joining her team, below. 

How long have you been in your current role, and what were you doing previously? 

I‘ve been in my current role since October 2018, after joining the leadership team responsible for starting up the new MTM joint-venture company in Huntsville, Alabama. 

Before joining the MTM team, I spent 18 years at Toyota’s manufacturing plant in Indiana, growing from a Quality Engineer to General Manager of Assembly, where I managed over 2,000 team members who built the Toyota Sequoia, Highlander and Sienna. As I moved up in my career, I learned that it’s okay not to have all the answers. What helped me grow and evolve as a leader was staying curious, asking questions and empowering employees to share their thoughts and ideas.

Janette Hostettler. Photo Courtesy of Toyota North America.
Janette Hostettler. Photo Courtesy of Toyota North America.

Describe what you do in one sentence.

I currently oversee the planning and execution of manufacturing shops including stamping, welding, painting and assembly operations for 2 production lines (Mazda and Toyota). These lines will eventually be over 4,000 team members strong and build 300,000 vehicles a year.

What’s the first (and/or last) thing you do at work every day? 

It’s very important for me to start and end the day with a positive mindset. I focus on building a strong sense of connection between our team members by saying “Hello” and “How’s your day?” As a people leader, I believe in building personal relationships with my team so they know I‘m there to support them. When you’re working on complex issues, it creates a more collaborative environment and a space for people to feel comfortable stepping outside their comfort zone. It’s the right environment to spark innovation, development and personal growth.  

How do you prioritize and deal with your to-do list each day?

I review my daily schedule and tasks in the morning. But no matter how busy my day will be, I always remember to stay flexible. Things will always pop up or change, and understanding this and switching gears to create time for the unexpected makes all the difference. There are things I don‘t compromise on, like taking the time for mental breaks or connecting with team members to discuss what’s going on. It’s a matter of having time for yourself and having time for your team members.

How would you describe your leadership style?  

I like to be known as a “servant leader.” Tony Dungy (the former coach of Indianapolis Colts) is one of my favorite authors and his book on servant leadership taught me to always put my team members first. One of the ways I demonstrate this prioritization is by inverting my organizational structure, with managers and leaders at the bottom of the page and all others at the top. I always like to think management are the ones that “support” the organization. So, no matter what kind of a day you are having, supporting team members should always be a top priority.  

How have you used your role to help bring up other women behind you? 

I’ve been fortunate to have mentors and people who invested in my growth throughout my career, and because of that I love working at a company that gives me the ability to return that favor. My schedule is crazy, no doubt, but it’s always a positive feeling to be able to support our future leaders and give them the opportunities to make a difference for the business and in their own careers.

It’s also incredibly important to show other ladies that “work-life balance” is your own definition and that it’s OK to prioritize your family. In many cases during my career, especially when my children were very young, I had to turn down some opportunities and put family first. As long as you are a hard worker and do what is right, the opportunities will come.

Why do you think your company is a particularly supportive work environment for women?

All of our team members are so important to us. We support diversity and inclusion in our workforce, as well. Speaking as a female, there are many perspectives that women bring to the table but often are reluctant to share due to their personalities or feelings of intimidation. At MTM, we have already started our first “Business Partnering Group'' or employee community called the “MT-MUSes“ in order to promote networking, development and growth in our company. In fact, the MTMUSes had a large voice in the shift schedule rotation that was decided for our plant. It is important as a new company that we show diversity and inclusion are an integral part of our success.

What’s one thing you think young job seekers should know about your company’s manufacturing side? What about those who are in a more advanced career stage? 

We have world-class training. Literally. We are sending many of our assistant managers, group leaders and trainers to Japan for 3 months. During this training, they will learn about how it feels to be a team member on the line, their role and the essence of “mendomi,” or “treating our people like family.”

We‘re also bringing in so many talented people from inside and outside the automotive world.  Not only do we have innovative technology, but innovative minds. In this greenfield start up, we have the opportunity to start a new culture from the ground up and bring ideas not only from Mazda and Toyota but from other industries as well.  


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