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Toyota New Zealand CEO attributes people first culture to 25-year tenure at company


Toyota New Zealand Chief Executive Officer, Neeraj Lala, has attributed the company’s strong internal, people and customer first culture as the major factor contributing to the quarter of a century he has spent at the company.

This month, Neeraj celebrates 25 years with the company and believes his long-term service, and that of many other employees, is a direct result of the company’s supportive and nurturing approach to its staff, and the belief that staff are the most valuable asset to the company’s success. 

Neeraj started as a marketing graduate fresh from his degree at Victoria University of Wellington and was offered career development opportunities throughout the company, including frequent changes in responsibilities, completing an MBA with full support from TNZ and including a three-year stint with Toyota USA before becoming the company’s Chief Executive.

In the age of the Great Resignation, he observes, finding the right employer and sector keeps you learning, maturing, and challenging yourself throughout your career.

“When I first began my journey with Toyota, I was excited to be working for a car company that was focused on making a traditional Japanese car company, into a genuine and most loved and admired New Zealand company.  This was the initial catalyst that drew me into the company as I wanted to continue that legacy. Along with the marketing focus, I would be lying if I wasn’t more excited about the legendary 90s Sports cars Toyota had introduced.  The 2JZ Supra, the ST205 Celica GT4, and the SW20 MR2 GT-S were all on the aspiration list to own one-day.”

“25 years on I am even more excited about the low emission powertrains we offer, along with our stable of the very best GR and Lexus sports cars.  As an industry, we are at the intersection of retaining the passion of enthusiasts and transitioning to a more sustainable future. 

Moving our business from a car company to a mobility company is a great honour, along with committing to our sustainability objectives and championing women in leadership.”

My family is my motivation, and it’s a privilege to serve this company and our customers along this journey ahead.  Our commitment to people through professional development and the pathway for those who wish to set personal development goals and seek new opportunities, is the perfect catalyst to start the adventure that lies ahead.”

“I have seen many people change jobs every few years for them to progress. My advice has always been to consider the longer-term objective and to develop a plan that will enhance your skills and experience, as I believe it takes a substantial amount of time to build momentum in new jobs and fully understand a new company or industry.”

Neeraj contends that there probably aren’t too many other CEOs out there who have been with their company since leaving university, and just a few other major New Zealand companies that openly celebrate and encourage long service – such as Mainfreight.

“The common denominator is a loyal, people-focused business, with an emphasis on developing staff right across their careers.  In both our National Customer Centre in Palmerston North and throughout the privately-owned Toyota Store network, we celebrate and reward long service and contribution. I view my tenure with Toyota New Zealand as a badge of honour.

Neeraj says, being part of Toyota Motor Corporation means being part of a unique culture – a culture that is a mix of the Toyota Way, which has been evolving for decades, the Japanese business culture, and the grassroots culture of the Manawatū, where Toyota NZ is based.

“Textbooks have been written about the Toyota Way and its 14 principles – which include Continuous Improvement and Respect for People. The principles are the foundational platform of how the company operates in New Zealand and underpin why so many people choose to stay with the company.

Being headquartered in Palmerston North also sees lower commuting times and a strengthened work-life balance, which contributed to job satisfaction and low turnover. 

“We are proud to be an important and significant partner in the Manawatū economy and community. Our people have strong roots in the region and enjoy a lifestyle that many other companies can only dream of – there is a lot to be said for the importance of community in creating a successful business.”

Neeraj highlights that Toyota NZ spends a lot of resource and time on training its people, across every level of the business, to support them to succeed. His own tenure, he highlights, has had a significant upside for Toyota New Zealand in providing leadership stability.

“The last 12 months have not been easy for Toyota and our team.  While our revenues are satisfactory and we maintained our Number One market leadership in New Zealand for the 35th consecutive year, it was not without its challenges as unprecedented disruption has plagued our business across almost every area,” he says.

“On-going delivery delays have tested the patience of our most loyal local customers and our Store network. I am extremely grateful to our strong and stable executive leadership, but more importantly every Toyota staff member across the country for responding to the challenge and attempting to manage the chaos.”

As the company navigates the challenges of sustainability, redefined mobility for all, new technologies and a raft of new competitors, Neeraj is uniquely committed to lead the business through it all.

Our company goal is to achieve net-zero carbon by 2050 while maintaining mobility for all. Including lifetime emissions of a vehicle, he says, is about the company’s accountability regarding climate change across its local value chain.

“We are all in this together. Our responsibility as a Kiwi brand and a market leader is to reduce not only our own emissions, but also help our supply and value chains, and customers to make a positive contribution,” says Neeraj.

Neeraj says he is also proud to serve on the Sustainable Business Council’s Advisory Board, continuing the tradition set by his predecessors, as well as being part of the steering committee for the Climate Leader’s Coalition, a champion for change for Global Women, and on the boards of Kinto New Zealand and Toyota Financial Services, and Executive of Toyota Motor Corporation Australia.

Neeraj is also on the board of Manawatu Rugby Union and KartSport Manawatu. 

“A commitment to the company is also a commitment to the local knowledge economy and to New Zealand.”