Jeneen Horton is a fixture at automotive conferences, representing Toyota Motor Manufacturing Alabama as its manager for Environmental and Facilities Departments. A key player in the company’s efforts to reduce CO2, Horton challenged the company to achieve “zero landfill” status, and TMMAL was the first of Toyota’s North American manufacturing plants to get there.
Besides her active role at the plant, however, Horton, who has served on the board of the Association of Energy Engineers, and the advisory committee for Auburn University’s Mechanical Engineering department, is committed to giving back to nonprofits such as Girls Inc., and the Southern Automotive Women’s Forum (SAWF), which recently elected her president. Ahead of this year’s Southern Automotive Conference, she talked about how she got into automotive, why conferences are important and what she hopes to see SAWF accomplish.
She even manages to work a Toyota slogan in at the end.
Q: How did you get interested in the automotive field in the first place? Was it a lifelong goal?
Jeneen Horton: It has always been a lifelong goal to be an engineer. It was in the cards for me to end up in the automotive sector. My co-op experience was actually in power generation. I worked at a power plant. After graduation I started working at an electrical cable company, then a Tier I automotive supplier. I knew after graduation I would work in the environmental sector within a manufacturing company.
Q: How did you come to be at Toyota?
JH: Toyota starting building a facility in Huntsville, Alabama, literally 10 minutes from my home. I was passing by the plant one day while it was under construction early 2001, and I said to myself I will work there one day. I started June 2002 as an environmental engineer and have loved the automotive industry since that time.
Q: What’s your day-to-day like at Toyota ?
JH: I can sum that up in this word…unpredictable. No day is the same, but every day I know my job is to problem solve and develop my team members. The day is driven by our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators), so any of the KPIs that we missed, it’s my responsibility to understand why (the root cause) and to make sure countermeasures are implemented.
Q: How did you get involved with SAWF and when?
JH: Toyota was very involved with AAMA (Alabama Automotive Manufacturing Association), I had been involved with several AAMA activities. I was selected to represent AAMA on SAWF’s Advisory Board. That was about seven years ago.
Q: When were you elected president of SAWF and what do you hope to bring to the organization?
JH: I was elected president February 2019. Prior to that I served as vice-president (2017-2019). I hope to continue our vision of promoting women in the automotive industry. We focus in the following areas: professional development networking/mentoring (for existing women in the automotive industry), scholarship/co-op and internship opportunity (for women wanting to enter the automotive industry and All Girls Auto Know (for middle school girls exposing them to STEM and the automotive industry).
Q: What do you want see SAWF do during your tenure?
JH: During my tenure as president I want to focus on working with our member states’ workforce development agencies. I want them to see the value of SAWF providing future female talent into the workplace, by SAWF introducing STEM and the automotive industry during middle school, informing students about potential future opportunities including scholarship monies. Continue to network and promote the automotive industries throughout our member states.
Q: What do you love about SAWF?
JH: I love so many things about this organization. The fact that it’s a group of about 20 women on the board and committees along with about 130 members…all volunteers. The things that we have been able to accomplish in 10 years such as awarding close to $300,000 in scholarships, launched All Girls Auto Know, starting professional development opportunities. The fact that through this hard work we are now recognized as part of the SAC. I don’t see us slowing down anytime soon.
Q:Why is it important for SAWF to be so involved with the Southern Automotive Conference?
JH: SAC is how I got involved with SAWF. But I think in terms of diversity and the diverse perspective of SAWF is why it’s important that we are involved with SAC.
The workforce in the South is changing and there are more women present than ever before, so to see a female[run] organization (with a lot of male support) just continues to support that diversity model.
Q: You’ve been involved in conferences for a while. So what do you think is the most important reason to have conferences like this?
JH: I will have to break this up into a few sections. Academia – student – being educated about the industry so you can pass along to your students [and] exposure for those that will be in the workforce 1-2 years. Automotive suppliers-vendors – networking and collaboration. Automotive OEMs-Tier I – networking and collaboration but also listening to your supply base and sharing needed information about the shift in the industry.
Q: The SAC Presidents’ Video this year was cool, and you were front and center in it. What was it like making that video?
JH: It was a lot of fun. The theme was TAMA through and through. I really enjoyed talking and getting to know all the presidents.
Q: What else do you want people to know?
JH: People that know me know I love to give back. Being part of Toyota and SAWF has allowed me the opportunity to encourage and mentor so many people, especially young people. Helping them to understand that no matter where you start from you can finish where your heart desires. And letting them know there are people, companies, organizations in your corner to help you START YOUR IMPOSSIBLE.