You could call him the Susan Lucci of our CEO of the Year feature. For three consecutive years, Toyota Motor North America’s Jim Lentz was named a runner-up in D CEO’s annual program; this year, he earned the title outright, as a consensus pick among editors. We also discussed the merits of Stephen Demetriou of Jacobs Engineering, Melissa Reiff of The Container Store, Randall Stephenson with AT&T, and Stephen Winn at RealPage Inc.
Lentz is named CEO of the Year for successfully overseeing a massive restructuring at Toyota and the company’s headquarters relocation to Plano, where it now employs 4,000 people. The chief exec has to contend with profound changes in the industry—including advances in technology, government regulation, and increased competition—as he grapples for market share. At the same time, the speed of doing business has rapidly accelerated.
All of this has led Lentz to rely more on his gut. “Back in the old days, you waited to make your decisions until you had 100 percent of the information, because you could afford to do that,” he told us. “Today you can’t. Today you’ve got to be ‘roughly right.’”
Early on in his career, Lentz was working in merchandising at Toyota’s Portland, Oregon, office, when he got a lecture from his boss, who thought Lentz was taking a soft managerial approach to the people below him. The ultimatum came, as our Jason Heid writes in an in-depth profile of this year’s honoree, to “start managing with an iron fist or find someplace else to work.” Lentz accepted a demotion and shifted to the automaker’s corporate office in California. It was a pivotal move that ultimately led to Lentz taking the helm of Toyota’s North American operations. And now, finally, to his standing as our CEO of the Year.
That’s called karma.