A photo of a young boy with a shovel of dirt is displayed in the lobby at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana (TMMI) plant in Princeton, Indiana. It depicts the 1996 groundbreaking of the automotive assembly plant, where local elementary school children were invited to help welcome the new facility.
While it may seem like just another picture in the 20-year history of TMMI, president Millie Marshall says it is a perfect illustration of one of the ways Toyota has impacted the region.
“Twenty years later, and that student is now a team member here. That shows the complete circle,” says Marshall. “He got involved at an early age and stayed in the area; now he works here as a team member.”
Two years after that ceremony, the first vehicle rolled off the line at Toyota’s newest North American facility — a Tundra truck on Dec. 10, 1998. Since then, production of the Tundra has moved to another plant while the Sequoia full-sized sports utility vehicle (2000), the Sienna mini van (2003), and Highlander mid-sized SUV (2009) have found a home on the Princeton plant’s assembly lines.
TMMI occupies more than 1,160 acres in Gibson County, employing around 5,400 people from the region directly and an additional 900 in contract services. At 4.3 million square feet, TMMI is the equivalent of more than 70 football fields.
“A facility of this size is a city in itself,” says Karen Johnston, manager of the corporate external affairs department.
Production at the plant is staggering — employees completed a total number of 412,440 vehicles in 2017, a jump of 10,597 from 2016.
“It’s amazing,” says Marshall, who has been a Toyota team member for 27 years. “Even after working here all these years, it’s hard for me to imagine we have a big roll of steel and about 20 hours later, a team member drives a vehicle off the line. Even though I know how it works, it’s still amazing to see that happen.”
New Kid On the Block
It’s easy to remember her start date at Toyota, Marshall says. It was income tax day 1991.
The Lexington, Kentucky, native started at the Georgetown, Kentucky, plant; the first Toyota built in North America. Through her career, she has served as general manager of Administration in Huntsville, Alabama; vice president of Human Resources at the former Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing Headquarters in Erlanger, Kentucky; and Manufacturing senior vice president and then president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing West Virginia, Inc. in Buffalo, West Virginia. Her selection as president of the West Virginia facility made her the first female president for any Japanese manufacturing plant.
“I was, quite frankly, honored to be selected to come to Indiana to be president in 2017,” says Marshall. “And it’s been an easy transition for me. Externally, all the folks I have met have just been fabulous. Internally, it’s all about teamwork.”
She was chosen as the replacement for Norm Bafunno, who had served as president for the Princeton plant since 2010, after he accepted the role of group vice president of North American Competitiveness at Toyota’s national headquarters in Plano, Texas.
“I always say I’ll never be able to replace him because he knew every piece of steel, every single team member, and was involved in all the community relationships,” says Marshall.
But the challenge of being the “new kid on the block” does not deter her; in fact, it’s been an opportunity she’s welcomed.
“I like boots on the floor, and I spend my time on the floor most of the day, as much as I possibly can, because the team members are what make our product,” says Marshall. “Understanding what barriers they have and what I can do to eliminate them is how I see my role.”
Marshall admits to being a foodie, so upon arriving in southern Indiana, she says she was ready to try the diverse food the area offers.
“I learned early on there’s a heavy German influence that I like,” she says. “And you can go to Downtown Evansville and eat about any type of food you like. It’s not just chain restaurants; some of them are little local eateries and they have the best food. It’s been great.”
She also was excited to return to the Indiana region she remembered fondly from her childhood.
“When I was in school, we showed quarter horses and I showed here at the Vanderburgh County 4-H Fairgrounds,” says Marshall. “I was excited to get back to Indiana because it is very similar in terms of people and landscape of what I’m accustomed to in Lexington. It’s been a very humbling perspective to come here.”
The Future and Beyond
In September 2017, Toyota’s Princeton plant rolled its five-millionth car off the assembly line — a huge accomplishment for a two-decade old facility, says Marshall. For the leadership and team members at the plant, that number is only going to grow in the coming years.
Marshall has a vision for the Princeton facility; to be the global best in caring, learning, and providing an inclusive environment. With the workload at TMMI Princeton set to continue growing in the next five years, Marshall and the team members have a lot to look forward to.
“We’re currently getting ready to go through two major model changes,” says Marshall. “It’s a credit to all team members here that Toyota has the trust and faith in us to produce even more high-quality vehicles.”
That confidence translates into an investment of $600 million and the hiring of an additional 400 team members, announced in early 2017.
“Our mission is very clear — we’re at 20 years, but we’re looking at the next 20 or the next 50,” says Marshall. “We want to continue to grow and be a good corporate citizen to the communities where our team members live and work. That’s very important to us.”
For more information about TMMI, visit tourtoyotaindiana.com.