the glass slipper, looking beyond the glass ceiling
grad helps make the auto industry more user friendly
may have come a long way, baby, but Corporate America's glass
ceiling still bruises more than a few feminine craniums.
The automotive industry,
one of the largest manufacturing activities in the world, is
also one of the most male-dominated. Female employment figures
in that sector are staggeringly low: women make up slightly
more than 5 percent of the national car sales force, for example,
yet they buy 60 percent of all cars and trucks, according to
the organization U.S. Demographics.
Enter Nancy McKee
Fein, corporate manager for Toyota Motor Sales U.S.A., and 1976
RIT College of Science graduate. With 17 years' experience navigating
the old boys' network, she is hiking her way up the Toyota corporate
ladder. Fein's latest role in the organization is as member
of a think tank -- called New Era Business Sales Process --
that is redesigning Toyota retail sales for the future. (Not
that Toyota couldn't rest on its laurels: Toyota Motor Sales
announced its third record-breaking sales year at the end of
"No one wants to
buy cars the way they used to," Fein says, squeezing in a telephone
interview early in the morning, West Coast time, so as not to
interfere with her hectic work day. Fein and her husband, Len,
an automotive engineer, live in Ranchos Palos Verdes, California.
choice -- they're used to it," she explains. Brand loyalty,
one of the hallmarks of car buying in the 1950s and '60s, is
virtually nonexistent now. Families were once defined by their
car make -- Olds, Cadillac or Dodge -- in the same way that
they were labeled by their political party. Now car buyers shop
around in the same way that they roam the mall, looking for
exactly what they want at the most affordable price.
Toyota, the fourth-largest
auto maker in the country, needs to find ways to not only entice
the new buyer, but to continue to please current owners, to
keep them coming back, Fein says. "We want to develop an ongoing
relationship with the customer," she says. "We want the quality
of the customer's experience to match the quality of the product."
have been marketing more directly to customers' needs, based
on what they know about them, Fein says. (Amazon.com, for example,
sends individual e-mail notes to customers to let them know
of book titles that might interest them. The food trades send
coupons to certain ZIP codes to encourage buying in those demographic
One of the new projects
the think tank is working on is developing a database of customer
profiles, Fein says, using what data they have already accumulated
through sales and mailing lists and then surveying others to
find out more.
"Some want more
personal service and enjoy being taken care of," she says. "Some
are more technically savvy and want to have all information
about the product on line, so that they can shop on the Internet.
Some people enjoy the wheeling and dealing involved in a bargaining
process -- they even haggle at Nordstrom's! Others simply want
to know the price and then pay it.
"We want to make
them all happy," she says with a chuckle.
What's a Toyota think
tank like? "Well, first of all, we don't really work in a tank,"
Fein says, laughing. "We do plenty of thinking, but we also talk
An active RIT alumna, Fein, attends the
dedication of the College of Science's Center for Excellence
in Mathematics, Science and Technology on the Henrietta
campus in 1998. She visits Rochester several times a year
and also keeps in touch with other volunteer alumni by e-mail,
The group pulls
together members from different departments in the organization
who might not normally meet, but who also rely on each other.
(Sales, Service Distribution and Communication are some of the
departments included in the group that interfaces with all Toyota
divisions including Toyota, Lexus, Toyota Motor Insurances,
and Toyota Motor Credit Corporation.) "We meet and talk about
processes," she says, "especially intra-departmental processes."
The group might consider such questions as how to get cars to
dealers more quickly or supply information to sales representatives
more effectively. Each member goes back to his or her department
to encourage participation in a more functional process. If
all goes well, the brainstorming results in changes in the ways
the departments interact with each other and, thus, the retail
operation becomes more productive and efficient.
One of the most
difficult parts of this kind of cross-departmental project is
getting co-workers to support the revision of existing systems.
"Some employees like change, others don't," she says. Most see
the need to adapt, but would prefer not to. Some don't see any
need for change at all. "They say, 'We're selling more, we're
making money, don't touch anything,'" Fein explains. "What we
clarify for them is that you've got to make change in order
to bring the corporation into the next generation.
"We can't rely on
everything remaining the same."
waiting for the glass slipper, Fein has been in control of her
career since opting to major in mathematics at RIT. She joined
Toyota in 1982 after six years as a systems analyst, then supervisor
of a crew of analysts, for Eastman Kodak Company. When her parents
left Rochester for California, despite her job satisfaction,
she also felt the pull of the Pacific and opted for a cross-country
"It was a great
time to be a woman with a degree," she says of the early 1980s."I
applied to five California companies and received five offers."
(Kodak also offered to relocate her to California when they
heard of her desire to move west.) Since joining Toyota, Fein
has held various positions, including national retail development
manager, national parts supply manager, national service planning
and operations manager, warranty manager and service administrator.
She also earned a master's degree in business administration
from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), along
the way. Currently, as part of her think-tank work, she oversees
the integration of all advertising, incentive, recognition,
and training/certification programs to make sure that all promote
the same marketing messages.
is important to me," she says "At Toyota I have the chance to
try all kinds of things."
Despite the masculinity
of the industry, Fein's gender hasn't caused her much trouble
at Toyota, she says. "There will always be difficult cultural
clashes in the work place," she says. "Those can be male/female
or between ethnic groups. To survive in the global corporate
culture, we learn to get along with all kinds of people and
adapt to the evolving work environment."
In general, the
automotive industry now employs more women at higher levels,
she says. Two of the Canadian branches of U.S. car companies
have women at the helm, for example, and Saturn recently appointed
a female operations chief. Car designers are also creating cars
that appeal to women as well as men, she says. "We women buy
60 percent of the cars, we have some effect on 80 percent of
car-sale decisions -- we have a tremendous impact on the industry."
California is Fein's
ideal environment: "I fly airplanes, ride dirt bikes and scuba
dive," she says. "The weather here means I get to do those things
more often than I could in Rochester." She volunteers in Rochester
also, serving on the RIT Alumni Network Board of Directors.
She serves on the Ranchos Palos Verdes Parks and Recreation
Board and volunteers with the local school system. She is also
a member of Leadership California, an executive women's group.
Working with her
Ranchos Palos Verdes neighbors is simply an extension of her
life and career, Fein says, improving systems inside Toyota
and outside in the greater California community.
According to Robert
Clark, dean of the College of Science, "Nancy embodies our primary
mission at RIT: training students for outstanding careers. She
achieved her quality education here, ran with it, and keeps
moving forward with great success."