Toyota Opportunity Exchange connects Tier 1, diverse firms

By Tony McMurray

Relationship-building is a key component of expanding access for diverse suppliers, and Toyota Motor North America Inc.’s annual Opportunity Exchange aims to make it easy for the company’s Tier I suppliers to find and connect with diverse suppliers.

Toyota started the Opportunity Exchange in 1989 with 30 attendees in a small room. It’s since become an annual event – pausing only in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic – attracting up to 2,000 people in the years prior to the pandemic. This year attracted about 1,300 attendees.

As the event has grown, Toyota has become more intentional about the ways the event promotes opportunity, said Matt Greene, senior manager of supplier diversity at Toyota Motor North America. The event now includes both the traditional trade show floor as well as educational seminars.

Greene said those seminars have been well received because Toyota focuses on topics that are applicable to a broad audience.

“We focus on development of the person versus talking about supplier diversity,” he said. “We want people to leave with something of value from a development standpoint, so we focus on getting speakers that can truly engage the audience and then also tie into our theme of connecting.”

Because the heart of Opportunity Exchange remains helping its major suppliers connect with diverse businesses, Toyota has also enhanced the ways it helps make those connections over the years. Opportunity Exchange now uses an app that allows suppliers to enter what they are looking to purchase and diverse businesses to enter the goods and services they provide. The app then provides a ready-made list that allows attendees to prioritize who they want to meet with during Opportunity Exchange.

“The app makes it easier for the right connections to happen,” Greene said. “Too often, not just on the corporate side but also on the diverse business side, you spin your wheels trying to find the opportunity or the supplier. It’s our job to do whatever we can to make that connection quicker and easier, and that’s what we try to do with Opportunity Exchange.”


‘Powering Opportunity Together’

This year’s event theme, “Powering Opportunity Together,” reflects some of Toyota’s key values.

“Toyota believes in engaging in community and enhancing the lives not only of its team members, but those lives in the areas where we operate,” Greene said. “We not only need to spend with diverse suppliers to show our engagement in the community, but we want our Tier I suppliers to do that also. We want to see positive growth in the communities where we operate, not only from a business standpoint, but we also hope this helps drive education and development of people within the regions where we operate.”

That commitment is shared throughout the company and reflected in the presence of more than 30 top Toyota executives who attended Opportunity Exchange, Greene said.

“It’s not just supplier diversity or purchasing,” he said. “Opportunity Exchange is mainly geared toward our Tier I suppliers meeting diverse businesses. But having those top Toyota executives there provides an opportunity for our Tier I suppliers to re-engage with our executives and build relationships with them. It’s also an opportunity for diverse suppliers to meet our top executives and connect because opportunities arise mainly from relationship building.”


Jennifer Hoffman: Be intentional and engaged

The theme of connection was echoed throughout Opportunity Exchange, beginning with the opening remarks delivered by Jennifer Hoffman, supplier diversity manager for Toyota Motor North America. She welcomed attendees and acknowledged the investment of time to attend the event.

“Now that you have chosen to be here, I’d like to challenge you to make the most of that time by truly being present and intentional about your engagement today,” Hoffman said. “Use today’s sessions and connections as motivation to drive change and inclusion across our organizations.”

Hoffman then introduced seminar speaker Star Bobatoon, a stage and screen performer, award-winning speaker and trainer. In an upbeat and lively presentation, she offered attendees tangible actions to leverage change into opportunity for growth and possibility.


Carla Neff: Shared commitment to supplier diversity

Following Bobatoon’s presentation, Carla Neff, general manager of Toyota’s purchasing supplier relations department, recognized the combined effort of Toyota executives, team members, Tier I suppliers, strategic partners and diverse businesses in growing diverse spend across the organization.

“We started this event 33 years ago because we recognized that our supply base shared our commitment to increasing spend with diverse suppliers and we wanted to create a forum to support their efforts,” she said. “We are thrilled to continue a tradition that visibly demonstrates our shared commitment.”

Neff thanked and recognized Toyota’s supplier partners in attendance.

“Your presence is a strong message that you are committed to supplier diversity in your companies,” she said. “It is critical to Toyota that we advocate for diverse supplier inclusion throughout multiple tiers of our supply chain, and we can’t do that without our suppliers having that commitment too.”

She then recognized Toyota team members and the senior executives in attendance: Susan Elkington, senior vice president of electric vehicle supply; Mike Sweers, executive vice president, research and development; Leah Curry, president, Toyota Motor Manufacturing Indiana; Tellis Bethel, group vice president and chief social innovation officer; Jeff Makarewicz, group vice president, research and development; and Monte Kaehr, group vice president, research and development.

“These senior executives have travelled from all over the U.S. to be here, giving up a day or two from their busy schedules to show their support, recognize the challenges you all face and lend their influence to moving the needle on increasing diverse spend,” Neff said.

She concluded by thanking strategic partners at the national and regional councils in the United States and Canada as well as the diverse suppliers in attendance.


Chris Nielson: Diversity is critical to success

Joining via video, Chris Nielsen, executive vice president of product support and chief quality officer, acknowledged the value of a diverse supply chain to Toyota’s current and future success.

“To continue achieving success in today’s globalized economy, it’s imperative that Toyota cultivates a dynamic and inclusive culture, which includes our suppliers,” he said. “We believe that diversity is critical to our future success because we seek input, impact and innovation from a range of talented people. That’s why this Opportunity Exchange is one of many important actions we continue to prioritize each year to ensure we’re working with and fully engaging with diverse suppliers.”

As Toyota transforms into a mobility company providing the movement of people, goods and information, Nielson anticipates both opportunities and challenges for suppliers.

“Key among those will be electrification and the digital transformation of all aspects of our supply chain,” he said. “It’s not an exaggeration to state those two opportunities will change key aspects of nearly everything we do. As we go through this transition, we are committed to partnering with diverse suppliers in all aspects of Toyota’s business.”

Toyota has made organizational changes to help facilitate that, Nielsen said. In 2023, the company brought all of Toyota’s supply chain operations teams into a single organization to improve resource alignment and enhance its ability to move with greater speed and agility.

Robert Young: Enhancing collaboration

Robert Young, chief procurement officer and group vice president of purchasing supplier development in North America, echoed Nelsen’s beliefs that diverse business will be critical to Toyota’s future.

“As Toyota continues its transformation to a mobility company, it is critical that we deepen our collaboration and communication and enhance the pace of our innovation,” he said. “Diverse suppliers are flexible and nimble, allowing them to pivot quickly when necessary, so let’s consider how they can help us as our industry evolves.”

Young’s team focuses on enhancing collaboration with suppliers to improve individual supplier diversity programs. Toyota’s supplier diversity approach is based on the best practices outlined by the National Minority Supplier Development Council Inc. and the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council. The company also maintains partnerships with the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce, the National Veteran Business Development Council and Disability: IN.

Young thanked those organizations and urged suppliers to join regional councils for opportunities to network, learn and strengthen their businesses. He also encouraged Tier I suppliers to embrace diversity within their own companies.


Tellis Bethel: A People First Approach

Toyota’s culture of belonging and its inclusive environment throughout the organization is one of its defining characteristics, said Tellis Bethel, group vice president of social innovation and chief diversity officer.

“As I was preparing for this conference, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the shared values between social innovation and supplier diversity: a commitment to diversity, opportunity for all, inclusion and belonging,” he said. “These values are ingrained in everything we do at Toyota. As we continue to move forward as a mobility company, it’s the authenticity and passion of our people that fuels how we work with our suppliers, partners and community members. We cannot best serve a community without a people-first approach to truly understand the opportunities and needs of how to best strengthen access to mobility solutions.”

As part of its people-first approach, Toyota launched Driving Possibilities, an initiative aimed at reducing barriers and supporting student access to high-growth careers through education and community-focused programs.

The initiative started in 2022 with a community in West Dallas, Texas, and in 2023 expanded to three new communities with a focus on science, technology, engineering and math curriculum for students in Pre-K through 12th grade. Bethel said the company plans to continue to expand across the country building partnerships with school districts, individual schools, industry, nonprofits and local communities.

“It will look unique in each community because each community is unique,” he said. “That’s why it’s so important to us that we collaborate with the leaders in each area to build and evolve the programs and services that best fit the children living in those areas.”

Bethel also highlighted recent recognitions Toyota has earned for its implementation of best practices in its diversity efforts, including:

• Ranking #4 Top Company for Diversity (and the only automotive company in the Top 10 for a third year) by Fair360 (formerly Diversity Inc.) and inclusion on 15 of the top 25 specialty lists, including supplier diversity.

• Ranking #1 on Rainbow PUSH’s automotive diversity scorecard in 2022.

• Achieving a 100% score 15 years in a row on the Human Rights Campaign’s Corporate Equality Index for Best Places to Work for LGBTQ Equality.

• Receiving a 5-star ranking in 2022 from the Hispanic Association for Corporate Responsibility.

• Ranking as “One Toyota” for the 50 most community-minded companies in the U.S. by The Civic 50.

• Ranking as a Best Company for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in 2023 by Black Enterprise.

“While these rankings are certainly a celebration of the progress we’ve made as a company, the criteria continually evolve just as our customers, communities and team members continue to evolve,” he said. “Without the vibrant tapestry of D&I [diversity and inclusion], we cannot unlock the innovative ideas that will shape the advanced technologies of our future. Our journey is continually evolving, and we’re dedicated to fostering a world where every perspective is heard and valued.”


Teamwork and connection

Greene closed the luncheon program, introducing the day’s keynote speaker, Robyn Benincasa, a world champion adventure racer, San Diego firefighter and a CNN Hero. She spoke about building world-class teams that can succeed against challenges.

Attendees then headed to the trade show floor to connect with the event’s nearly 300 exhibitors.

Greene said the day was one of the most successful Opportunity Exchanges the company has put on and helped build new connections and opportunities for Tier I and diverse suppliers alike.

“Opportunity Exchange is opportunity in many ways,” he said. “Opportunity, first and foremost, engaging with our Tier I suppliers that don’t always have a supplier diversity department or program. And then the other piece is opportunity to engage with the overall community within Toyota. As you build those relationships, it makes it more likely for you to get opportunity in the future.”


To learn more about the Toyota Opportunity Exchange, visit

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Toyota Opportunity Exchange Toyota Motor North America Inc. supplier diversity Powering Opportunity Together Jennifer Hoffman Carla Neff Chris Nielson Robert Young Tellis Bethel

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