Salvador Ochoa – Toyota de Mexico
It’s a competitive automotive industry in Mexico. Employee turnover has been around 13 percent, with Chinese companies among the latest trying to seize a share by, among other means, wooing their competitors’ workers with attractive offers.
But at Toyota de Mexico, Salvador Ochoa is proud to say the workforce stays relatively steady, with only around 3.5 percent of the employees departing annually. Such longevity is no accident, says this congenial but intense man who has overseen HR, IT and purchasing since January 2017.
“I have always seen myself as a strategic business partner who contributes in many ways,” he says. “That means aligning the basic needs of our associates (employees) with company goals.”
The company’s goals are formidable, with Mexico being Toyota’s 16th most active market and the company transitioning from automotive to overall mobility. The Guanajuato plant’s slated for $328 million in upgrades necessary to produce a new hybrid model of the Tacoma pickup truck that’s seen as a link between the traditional internal gas-combustion and electric vehicles.
Although Toyota and other automakers produce many electric vehicles in Mexico, most are exported because the country is short of charging stations. Hybrid electric, however, should advance Toyota’s green agenda here while enough charging stations are built to make EVs more economically viable.
But, as Ochoa says, so much comes down to recruiting and retaining the workforce necessary to bring the plans to fruition.
Man of the people
One can’t do so while siloed, Ochoa says. At any given time, he might be on the floor of one of the many departments, talking with employees and getting a sense of their concerns. According to him, if Toyota de Mexico is to be the automotive employer of choice, it must go beyond what might be business as usual at its competitors.
Mindful of the workers’ overall well-being, Ochoa has arranged or expanded a series of support programs. Company health insurance is augmented by onsite vaccinations and a 24/7/365 cost-free telemedicine plan. Concern extends into the employees’ mental and financial well-being, with counselors available to discuss the most personal matters.
Then there’s Ochoa’s recognition and rewards programs, which he says contribute to between 15 and 20 percent of the workforce being promoted yearly. He’s sponsored surveys enabling the company to evaluate 21 dimensions, including diversity, efficiency and development. He crunches numbers even further, saying there is 92 percent satisfaction among the workers, 94 percent for customer focus and 97 percent for overall working conditions.
“We define profiles, competencies and roles and are constantly developing our internal talent to achieve objectives through the professional growth of people, allowing us to retain and keep talent happy,” he says. “A happy workforce is a productive one.”
From IT to HR
He’s been fostering a progressive corporate culture for some four decades, commencing with HR management at the age of 27 after getting his start in it. In early jobs, he says he gauged the importance of the human resources function largely through his employers being remiss in this area.
“I saw the lack of services that HR should provide, and it got me thinking about how this was no way to run a business,” he says. “The companies weren’t focused on people. You would take a vacation or work overtime and not get your money on time. It was a complete mess.”
So, Ochoa set about making a difference, emphasizing that employee morale is essential to any sound business plan. He came up with ideas, collaborated with his financial counterparts and displayed his anticipated return on investments in office culture. Around 40 years later, Ochoa says he’s got it down to a science, and when he retires in three or four years, his successor should be well-positioned to build upon what he’s laid down since 2017. He’s got several people under his wing whom he says would make capable HR directors.
Among his advice: Think ahead. All the better if Ochoa’s successor, like him, is a chess fanatic.
He knows the moves
Ochoa took up the board game as a 12-year-old, as his mother hoped it would channel her son’s competitiveness into something other than fisticuffs. That it did; he played for hours and went on to be runner-up in a prestigious tournament. He also graduated from the Universidad La Salle with an MBA in business administration but says the lessons he gleaned from chess have been as valuable as any from a classroom.
“Chess taught me to think three or four steps ahead,” he says. “I use that approach when developing HR strategy.”
It’s been vindicated, he says, explaining how the progressive health care policies—physical and mental—helped sustain company productivity and morale during COVID-19. Though relieved that the worst of that pandemic seems over, he’s farsighted as ever regarding the workplace. Other automakers will continue to try to lure the Toyota workforce, and he expects to repel such efforts through improved hiring, training and incentives. Then there’s his secret ingredient of passion.
“Everything I do, I do with a lot of passion,” he says. “To achieve your goals, you have to have passion.”
Ochoa’s largely achieved his goals, personally and professionally. He stays fit through jogging and soccer, is an accomplished guitarist, and, of course, continues to play chess.
There’s just something about that game and its quest to destroy the opponent’s strategy and rack up a “victory of intelligence.”
But while he applies chess principles to his HR role, there’s nothing about destroying. Here, the intent is a victory of intelligence for all, and Ochoa’s strategizing for that long after he’s gone.
“My retirement age is approaching, but I want to continue transmitting knowledge and revolutionizing the area of human capital because it is the organization’s future that allows us to have productive companies,” Ochoa says.
View this feature in the Vol. V 2023 Edition here.
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