Conversations with Leonard Koh

By Advisory Correspondent Corps

Leonard Koh is the General Manager – Conversion & Accessories Marketing at Toyota Motor Asia Pacific. In this article, he shares his career journey in Toyota, his advice for youths interested in joining his profession, and his thoughts on the industry.

In three phrases: Fast and Dynamic, Ups and Downs, Exciting and Mobile. There is no workday that feels the same. My workday starts in the office at 7.30am with a good cup of coffee and preparing my office desk for the day ahead (being a mobility company, we have switched to hot-desking). 7.30am to 9am is my “block time” so I can prepare for the day’s meeting schedules, clear any emails or hot issues which may come in from our global customers at the other time zones or catch up with some of my colleagues at the office pantry. I then have team morning meetings to go through the daily sales reports and to listen to any struggle points or potential problems which require quick action or my involvement. 

Then it’s having back-to-back meetings with the various functions or company-wide task forces, customers and partners. Essentially, all meetings focus on pain points/problems and how to solve problems with countermeasures.

Together with my team of sales and logistics warriors, we provide our global distributors and partners with meaningful model life management/ accessories solutions and try to delight them by exceeding their expectations.

I am responsible for the planning, development and implementation of sales and business plans. There is a wide spectrum of coverage which includes the pre-sales, sales and post-sales processes and to ensure that sales operations are running at optimum levels. 

Everyday is exciting, different, mobile and full of thrill and joy! 

I was fortunate to be given several opportunities from various supervisors and management to take on new business areas which I never thought were possible, which continued to challenge and push me out of my comfort zone. 

In every new area assigned, I was taught by passionate and experienced team members who are experts in their areas. 

I started my career in Toyota in country operations where I developed my specialization of supply chain management and was responsible for the Vietnam market. I was given the opportunity to rotate to marketing where I contributed to the brand and product awareness in Asia Pacific. The regional role exposed me to the various Asian markets and deepened my understanding of the people at our Genba (operating field) which consists of our manufacturers, distributors, dealers and customers.

As a young manager, I was assigned to human resources for two years where I was responsible for human resource development as well as being a regional certified trainer. I was rotated back to country operations where I was responsible for Vietnam and Indonesia markets for 7 years. 

In 2020, after more than a decade with marketing and sales, I was rotated to aftersales. This helped me understand our strategy to keep our customers “Happy for Life” throughout all value chain touchpoints.

My Toyota journey continues but each job rotation and assignment allow me to deepen and widen my understanding of our company and culture. 

I have a lifetime passion for cars, and I love driving. The one thing I love most about my job is to be able to work with people who share the same passion and to be able to contribute and bring joy of mobility to our customers. The automotive industry is changing and transforming rapidly, and it brings a lot of excitement of how the industry is working together on future consumer trends (CASE – Connected, Autonomous, Sharing, Electrification), the evolution of mobility, smart cities, connectivity, transportation and other issues surrounding the movement of people and goods.

In my 19 years with Toyota, I have seen how the company overcame challenges and crises and emerged even stronger. 

I believe that one of the main reasons for me to stay and build my career is to work and grow side by side with Toyota people who believe in the Toyota Way. It is a company that constantly challenges and develops our people to make continuous improvement towards the mission of producing Happiness for All. We have a strong corporate culture that harnesses the power of our people.

Some of the soft skills necessary are communication, critical thinking and problem-solving, negotiation, time management, leadership, social influence, adaptability and empathy.

In addition, I would like to share the soft skills based on the Global Toyota Way 2020, they are “Act for others”, “Work with Integrity”, “Drive Curiosity”, “Observe Thoroughly”, “Get Better and Better”, “Continue the Quest for Improvement”, “Create Room to Grow”, “Welcome Competition”, “Show Respect for People”, and “Thank People”. 

Every Toyota person is expected to have these skills and I believe that they are applicable in every profession. 

The automotive industry is highly complex, competitive and challenging. I believe this applies to all industries. In today’s VUCA business environment, it is important to have personal responsibility, to build relationships and stay connected, to build mutual trust and respect and move away from just white or black thinking.  

I believe a business or engineering diploma/degree would provide a good foundation for any newcomers joining the industry, but I believe a positive and open, proactive and self-starting, and resilient attitude remains important. 

Most importantly, one needs to have a customer-first mindset with a hands-on approach in solving the customer’s pain points.

Since young, I have been fascinated how cars have souls that stir emotions and bring thrills and joy into our lives. Perhaps because of the passion for cars and driving, perhaps it is due to the manga titled “Initial D”… Reading about Takumi driving his Toyota 86,  or aspiring to own a Lexus IS200 when I was younger might have influenced me to chase the dream of one day being able to work in a car company like Toyota. 

I believe working in the automotive industry matches up to what I love doing. The industry also provides what the world needs and this adds a lot of meaning and purpose to my job.

The automotive industry involves other industries such as the manufacturing industry for the parts and accessories of the vehicle, infrastructure, energy, communications and logistics. Globally, eight million people work directly for auto manufacturers and many more work for companies that supply automotive parts and components. 

At Toyota Motor Asia Pacific, there is a sense of vibrancy, diversity and purposeful energy from our people. This is exemplified by how we work hard to exceed our customers’ and stakeholders’ expectations and most importantly, how we have fun, celebrate successes, and are not afraid of failures. We create the work environment to make ever-better cars and for our people to develop a love for cars, to challenge the impossible, and to touch the hearts of our Lexus and Toyota customers. The teamwork and bond among our people are strong and we are never alone when facing setbacks or difficulties in the company. 

I believe that an open mind and having shared values with the Toyota Way will naturally help a person succeed in Toyota. I believe the most important thing is to keep trying to do better, to enjoy what comes your way, and to cultivate the passion for cars and for Toyota.

Although I was not stationed overseas, during pre-pandemic times, I travelled overseas almost every week with around 80% of the time visiting our Genba (operating field). I believe one of the best ways to overcome culture and language is to show sincere respect and interest in the local customs, culture and food! I usually start learning simple greetings in the local language like ‘xin chao’, ‘sawadee krub’, ‘apa kabar’ — as they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do!

The automotive industry is experiencing a “once in a century change” as described by Akio Toyoda, transforming from automobiles into the mobility industry. With emerging trends such as CASE (Connected, Autonomous, Sharing, Electrification), the future ecosystem may be like high-tech sectors. The future of mobility is exciting as automotive companies get ready to transform in a new era of innovation and customer service while facing challenges to create a carbon-neutral society as an industry.

Have a genuine passion for cars and to cultivate a customer and quality first mindset.

Try to improve on your people skills, be a problem-solver/solutions-provider and good communicator. To do so, brush up on your Microsoft Office skills (PowerPoint, Excel) which are essential tools to help convey your thoughts to your stakeholders as well as to justify your propositions based on facts and data. The best way to convince others is to have your own conviction by rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands dirty.