Executive Insider: David Fernandes

by Kristen Orsborn
Sept/Oct 2018

David Fernandes is the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama. But ask him for a job description, and he’ll tell you he’s head cheerleader.

It’s all in a day’s work for Fernandes, who oversees about 1,400 TMMAL team members. The plant churns out nearly 700,000 V8, V6 and 4-cylinder engines for Tundra, Tacoma, Sequoia, Highlander, and RAV4 models each year.

And while Fernandes loves his job, it’s one he never really expected to have. At least, not at this point in his career. Read on to learn how he’s starting his impossible, or watch the video above. 

Driver’s Seat: When you got the promotion to TMMAL president, what was your reaction?

David Fernandes: Every time I’ve been promoted its been a surprise to me. In working for Toyota for almost 20 years, I believe you have to pay it forward for every promotion you get. I rotated in from the Kentucky plant as a vice president. I was here for about a year before I was promoted to president – so it came pretty quick. I thought I’d be here for a couple years at least before being promoted.

How would you describe leadership?

I would describe it as stewardship. At this point in my career, I’ve had to let go of my ego. It’s less about me and more about the team and the company. I work to break down barriers and push the decisions down to the lowest level. I really believe the decisions need to be made where the work is being done. So, I believe in empowering our team members and allowing them the opportunity to weigh in.

That requires a lot of trust your team members.

Absolutely. At Toyota, trust and respect are core to our foundation. I mean, I’m not the one who’s out there building engines every day. So, we have to trust our team members to do the right thing and build the best quality engines in the world.
You aren’t personally involved in the joint venture with Mazda, but it’s a huge project happening in your backyard.

It’s going to be amazing for Alabama. TMMAL has been here for 16 years, and we have  great relationships within the community. I think the joint venture is going to take it to the next level. When you think about 4,000 people who are going to have jobs with Mazda and Toyota… that’s going to be amazing for this community and an amazing opportunity for Toyota. It’s just neat that it’s coming to Huntsville and I’m excited to see that happen.

Let’s talk about mobility. Toyota just announced a scholarship program for Alabama A&M students studying mobility issues.

That’s right; it’s a $300,000 grant. Here’s why that’s important - there’s a mobility problem in the community. Now we’re going to have an opportunity fund a project for students who can help solve it using Toyota problem-solving skills. And by the way, those are the same skills we need for future team members. Not only are we funding something that will develop students skills , but those could be the same people we hire in the future. It’s going to be really cool for them to solve a mobility problem and at the same time, learn those valuable Toyota Way problem-solving skills.  
What do you want Toyota team members to know about TMMAL?

I could simply say that this plant produces 700,000 engines a year and that we produce engines for five of the 10 vehicles made in North America. As important as that is, it’s not the most important part. I think what’s important is our team members – 1,400 of them – come to this plant every day to make Toyota better, and themselves better. I just love seeing them here. Their personalities, their attitudes, the diversity of this team. I think it’s a great model for success. And I think it’s a big part of our success as a company.

What would be your advice to team members just starting their career at Toyota?

You  need to take the opportunity to learn everything you possibly can about what you’re working on, because later on, you’ll use those skills and  problem-solving opportunities to build on your knowledge in the company. The other thing is, you have to be patient. It’s easy to think when you join a company like Toyota,  you’re going to progress within the ranks. But you’ve got to be patient. It’s more about developing your skill and your knowledge.

What’s your favorite book?

I like Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. It’s kind of a self-reflection. I reread that book every two or three years, and I get something new out of it every time.

Favorite movie?

I’d have to say The Notebook.


I’m totally kidding. It’s The Matrix.

That makes more sense.

That movie reminds me how crazy the world can  get. And even when you think you’re plugged in, you need to take the time to separate yourself and recognize that you’re still in the moment.

Favorite band?

I love all kinds of music. Growing up, I listened to Prince and Lionel Richie. My favorite band was probably Run DMC. That probably shows my age.

We won’t tell anyone.

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