Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Mississippi, Inc. President David Fernandes has been around the world and back before settling in at the Blue Springs plant where Corollas are built. But he told his team he is proud to call Mississippi home now.
Fernandes says that local communities and beyond have welcomed Toyota and the team members with open arms.
“Mississippi has a story of rich cultural history and the hospitality here is genuine. No one is a stranger, and Mississippians truly love their neighbors,” he said.
The leader’s trek to Mississippi began in Kampala, Uganda in east Africa, where he was born. Fernandes’ family came to the United States when he was four years old, and he grew up in Indianapolis, IN. As a co-op student in college, he worked with Rolls-Royce Aircraft Engine Corporation in manufacturing. Later, Fernandes had the opportunity to join the Toyota West Virginia plant and was promoted a few times there before landing his first executive role and then moving on to the North American Headquarters in northern Kentucky.
At his next stop in Alabama, Fernandes held a dual position as vice president of administration and general manager of manufacturing. After a year, he was promoted to president there and three years later, he was selected to run the manufacturing division for a global site in South Africa. In November 2020, he transferred back to the United States to become president of the Toyota Mississippi plant. Now calling Mississippi his home, Fernandes says he has experienced our southern winter weather and the 25-year hailstorm we had in June. But it’s the nearly 2,000 people employed at TMMMS that he finds truly amazing.
“I have worked in manufacturing for a long time, and the one thing I still find amazing is that the Mississippi plant has been able to reach optimal productivity in just 10 years,” Fernandes said. “Employees in manufacturing cannot work from home like other industries. As we have seen during COVID, it is their dedication that enables continued customer satisfaction because they come to work every day and give it their all. Our employees are truly the backbone of Toyota’s success.”
With the COVID-19 pandemic causing havoc for businesses, manufacturing included, Fernandes noted that the plant implemented precautions to try to and keep employees as safe as possible.
“With the health and safety of our employees as a top priority, we instated the use of face masks and social distancing as a requirement in our U.S. facilities, offered onsite vaccine clinics, and provided onsite COVID testing. For nonproduction employees, we implemented remote work,” He said.
“During nonproduction, we offered three options to production employees,” he continued. “Whether it was participating in training or volunteering during worktime to complete one of four onsite volunteer projects, our employees were provided with stable work.”
“Volunteer efforts included stuffing sweet cases and teen duffels for 500 children and 400 teens in Mississippi foster care, assembling 500 hygiene kits for people in need and building a house for Habitat for Humanity. “At the end of the day, each these projects made a difference in someone’s life,” he said.
He further noted that they were able to use the Toyota Production System to produce face masks and hand sanitizer for hospitals and nonprofit organizations to contribute to community needs. He said the company also provided financial support to schools to provide equal access to education, totaling $500,000 donated to COVID relief and response efforts in Mississippi.
Those efforts and commitments also flow into Toyota’s commitment to diversity, an important topic Fernandes is extremely excited about.
“Our plant is outpacing the industry in terms of women in manufacturing,” he said. “In Mississippi, 30 percent of our workforce is female—the highest of all U.S. based Toyota plants. And since the average in the automotive industry is 26 percent, I’m very proud of the women here.”
In fact, Fernandes can claim that the diversity and inclusion momentum at TMMMS is phenomenal, even beyond gender, making diversity and inclusion who they are at the very core.
“It’s a way of being, a way of working, and a way of going forward,” he said. “Our goal is to drive innovation toward mobility for all, whether that be on the manufacturing floor, during the research and design process or while our employees are giving back to the communities around them.
“We believe furthering the success of our customers, dealers, employees, suppliers and communities is key to our success. By embracing and living our commitment to fostering diverse and inclusive environments, we are setting the pace in innovation.”
The leader said they challenge what’s possible and recognize diversity and inclusion as an essential component of every team member’s experience, making the workplace, marketplace, society and the world a better place by living the values of equality, respect and inclusive treatment of all people and increased awareness of conscious and unconscious discrimination.
He said this inclusive mindset is the key to creating systems of change that will help Toyota advance toward a better world that is beneficial to everyone. He further explained that Toyota is about “being of service,” with universal, inclusive, and accessible mobility solutions providing the greatest number of options to the greatest number of people.
“At Toyota Mississippi, we know the next generation of workers expect fair compensation, great benefits and work-life balance. But we also know they want to make a difference as individuals,” he said. “That is why we challenge our team members, and future team members, to ‘Start Your Impossible.’ If we’re going to be able to deliver on our important mobility solutions as a company, we have to give our team members the ability to make a difference as individuals.”
He said the company has had a great partnership with local and statewide community leaders since Toyota came to Mississippi in 2007, which has led to great accomplishments, including:
- Establishing a $50 million educational endowment managed by The CREATE Foundation, Toyota Wellspring Education Fund
- launching the Imagine the Possibilities Career Expo in partnership with the CREATE Foundation
- donating more than $5.4 million to organizations addressing critical needs in local communities
- donating inoperable training vehicles to career and technical centers
“We are committed to growing support for our local communities by donating time, knowledge and financial resources to organizations responding to critical needs in the local community,” Fernandes said.
He further explained that Toyota knows that through collaboration with community partners, great things can happen. Since the plant’s groundbreaking in 2007, Toyota has invested $1.2 billion in the state and supports thousands of direct and indirect jobs. In addition, since 2011, Toyota has donated more than $5.2 million to local nonprofits to meet the critical needs and improve the quality of life for the people of Mississippi.
“I believe my role is to continue to engage in partnerships to continue the strong relationships our team has already cultivated in Northeast Mississippi and across the state” the leader proclaimed. “I am here to break down barriers so my team can make a difference in everything they do. Likewise, I ask our team members to think about what they can do each day to make a difference. We are going to lean heavily on that culture as we reimagine Toyota for the next hundred years.”
By Alison Faulk