Executive Insider: Jacqueline Thomas

She’s TMNA’s Queen of Compliance. And Jacqueline Thomas wants you to know that it’s OK to come to her with an issue.

November 13, 2018

Can’t help it. We love Jacqueline Thomas. Toyota Motor North America’s Chief Compliance Officer is smart, fun and eloquent. Oh, and she heads the Compliance and Audit Office (CAO), one of Toyota’s most important departments.
Compliance is a tricky business – with all the rules and regulations, along with making sure everything is kosher within our company. But Thomas and her team of about 90 team members handle it all with grace.
And, not so coincidentally, this week happens to be Compliance and Ethics Week. So, we sat down with the CCO and asked her about her job, its effect on team members and her unique upbringing.
Watch the video above, and read on below.
Driver’s Seat: I want to talk a little bit about your background. Born in Miami as a first generation American. Your parents are from Cuba. How did that shape you as a person?
Jacqueline Thomas: It’s so intrinsic to who I am as a person. My parents immigrated from Cuba in the early 60s. My uncle fought in the Bay of Pigs, and we had family members and friends who were actually imprisoned for their beliefs. For my parents, it was really important to have freedom of choice and free speech for themselves and their family. Growing up, we didn’t have a lot. We were a very large family, but there was always joy, music and family get togethers. I learned a lot by how we solved problems together. For instance, if an uncle wanted to buy a car, he may not have enough money, so my family pooled their resources to help him purchase that car. The next time out, maybe a family member wanted to move, again they pooled their resources to help them out.
I learned to always have a passion for what you do. My family never let the joy of life leave them. And they never regretted the choices they made. I think it’s important to never be a victim of your circumstances. Also, at the end of the day, we can focus on doing work and getting results, but it’s our connection with people that really matters. It’s the relationships we form and the authentic way that you can be yourself that is important. All those life lessons made me who I am today.
Were your parents strict?
That’s such a great question. It’s only recently that I’ve been reflecting upon my upbringing. But for me, yes there were rules that we had to live by. They were very strict around certain things like social activities. To manage, I had to almost create two different people. So, I’d be one person in school and another person at home. What I realized when I started my career is that it’s really the same person. It’s just who I am and the values I bring to the table.
Did you always follow the rules?
For the most part.
So, you’ve been into compliance for a long time then, huh?
(Laughs) Yes! And when I felt like the rules weren’t fair, I would approach them in a very transparent manner and explain why the rules were unfair, why we should change the rule and why doing so was important. And more times than not they got it.

You talked about the ‘joy of life.’ I’m sure that compliance gets you going, but what are you passionate about outside of work?
I’m very passionate about compliance! But outside of work, I love to salsa dance. It’s a skill I acquired at a very young age and continue to do that.
OK, let’s talk business: Why is compliance important?
Compliance is vital because we need to always strive to do the right thing. Our senior leaders are committed to making sure we remain a company of good standing and reputation. Also, we provide assurance that the company’s priorities and actions are the right ones and beneficial to the team members, as well as to our customers.  
For your job, the rules are always changing. How do you keep up?
A lot of it is keeping our pulse on the external environment, performing benchmarking and keeping sight of who we are as an organization and really leveraging the strength we have as a company. So, we adopted the model of three lines of defense.
The first line is management which perform quality checks as part of their operations. Within a group, everybody knows what they’re responsible for doing. They check their work and processes.
The second line augments management’s activities through a centralized compliance oversight and monitoring function. Our Regulatory, Compliance & Ethics, Customs/Trade Compliance and Assurance groups do that through partnership with management, providing them with an extra set of fresh eyes to help promptly identify and rectify gaps or issues. Line 2 “kicks the tires” for management.
And then the third line is internal audit, which provides independent objective assurance to reaffirm that the company’s operations, priorities, and strategies are effectively managed.
As a team member, how does your job affect what I do on a day-to-day basis?
I think the most important thing is that we need you to make compliance a top priority, so if you see something that doesn’t look or feel right to you, elevate that to our division’s attention as promptly as possible. Keeping our pulse on what needs to happen from a company perspective is really important. What you do day in and day out preserves the reputation of who we are as an organization.
If we’re going to effectively compete and grow our business, then we have to be focused on making sure our processes, systems and people are positioned for maximum success. That means if there’s something that you think isn’t handled the right way, that would be an area for you to probe and escalate as appropriate.
Compliance at your Service - They may be small compared to other automakers, but Thomas' Compliance team is adept in their craft.

How big is our compliance team? 

We’re close to 90 people. If you look at that size in comparison to some other companies and the breadth of coverage we have, we’re considered small. But we’re trying to leverage the team in a manner where we don’t duplicate work and we’re looking at the organization from different perspectives. For our team, looking at the organization from different perspectives and volunteering for new assignments is important because the broader perspective they can bring, the more they’re going to be able to transition from problem finders to problem solvers. That is critical because compliance really can be perceived as just pointing out problems as opposed to offering solutions on how we can fix it.

Let’s talk about the process. As the CCO, you see something wrong, who do you take it to?

Initially, I’ll go to the highest-level manager in that group where the problem has cropped up to figure out if they have identified it. Do they have countermeasures in place? What’s the timing of correction? And, depending on the issue, I do have a professional obligation to report high risk matters to (TMNA CEO) Jim Lentz and to (Executive Vice President and Managing Officer, Corporate Resources) Chris Reynolds. Depending on the seriousness of the issue, I may be required to escalate to them immediately.

Are we talking about corporate happenings? Products?

It’s around several categories. Anything product quality or product safety related. Team member safety, as well. Any egregious acts that could lead to criminal acts. Any egregious regulatory non-compliance.

What’s the best way to come to you with an issue?

We have a lot of different avenues you can use. We have a speak up line you can call if you’re feeling uncomfortable about it (Editor’s note: 844-773-2599, or go to http://www.toyota.ethicspoint.com). And you have your own management team that you can ask, as well as, HR, Legal, or the Compliance and Audit Office. If you start seeing a pattern emerging, then it’s an issue we’d want to help remedy as soon as possible.

That’s all we’ve got. 

Thank you!

By Dan Nied

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