Executive Insider: Mike Bafan

The chairman of Toyota’s Mexico plants talks leadership in his new role  

January 21, 2020

You can call Mike Bafan “The Chairman.” It’s a pretty befitting nickname. First of all, Bafan really is the chairman – for both of Toyota’s manufacturing plants in Mexico: the long-established Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Baja California (TMMBC), and the just opened Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Guanajuato (TMMGT).
Second, Bafan is a throwback executive who doesn’t get rattled and loves to share some laughter with his co-workers. His good nature and wealth of knowledge is a perfect combination. Of course, we’re not sure anybody actually calls him “The Chairman” as a nickname. But after this, maybe that will change.
Bafan has a rich history in the auto industry, joining Toyota in 2006 after 22 years at General Motors. He’s also transitioning to a new position as the group vice president of TMNA’s Manufacturing Project Innovation Center (MPIC).
We wanted to get the scoop on production in Mexico, so we sat down with Bafan on a recent trip to Plano and got The Chairman to open up.
Driver’s Seat: For people who don't know, you were the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Baja California, right?

Mike Bafan: Correct.

Then when TMMGT was announced, you were the president there too, doing double duty as president of both plants. Now you are the chairman, did your day-to-day change at all?

Yes and no. I'm now more comfortable delegating some of the day-to-day activities to our two other presidents: Oscar Quijada at TMMBC and Francisco Garcia at TMMGT. But I still work with them closely to develop strategies and interface with local and federal government and back to TMNA to make sure those guys stay focused on running production. And I can provide support in areas that would be difficult for them to get away from the day-to-day job to handle. So, we're helping each other. I'm sort of maybe quarterbacking in a way to make sure that they get what they need and that they score the touchdowns.
I'm With the Band -- Bafan (back) seizes the opportunity to get some hands-on mariachi band experience. 

What’s been your focus regarding each plant?

My main focus was what we can do to increase capacity of our Tacoma truck production quickly to meet the market demand and, at the same time, develop our people.
Baja had a very clear objective to expand capacity and continue producing the highest-quality Tacoma trucks while being very agile. So, we made some improvements to the plant and its efficiency is a lot better. We also increased the capacity by 67 percent. We went from producing a little over 50,000 units a year to 167,000 units a year.
Then we shifted our attention to expanding our footprint in Mexico. TMMGT came about after 10 years of studying. TMMGT began production of Tacoma C-Cab trucks on December 16, 2019 with great quality. We are going through the ramp up during the next several weeks before running production at the full rate.
What does that mean?

That means we will continue building Tacomas at lower rates (60 units per day) and then gradually increase to 80, 85, 90, … until we produce at 220 units per day, around June 2020. This will allow our team members and suppliers (many of them are on our site) to focus on quality and strengthen their production system and the logistics pipelines.
What Tacomas are we going to be making there?

Well, we're going to be making all kinds of Tacoma trucks. We'll start with the C-cab: the two-door and the extension doors. Then we'll be making the D-cab, the crew cab.

What kind of output are we going to be seeing at GT?

We're going to start at a very manageable level, 100,000 units a year. Then there are plans for us to study the possibility of expansion. The good thing about that plant is that we have the flexibility and agility to expand and to do different things that we just really can't do as easily in other plants.
Right now, we have roughly 1,000 direct team members and we have 13 suppliers onsite. Those are our key partners and we also have a few suppliers that operate under the same roof. So, roughly between them and us I'm thinking maybe 2,500 team members, but again, as we add the second shift which will be June of 2020, those numbers will go up.

Tell me about the team members who work at our plants in Mexico.

They are extremely hardworking, very enthusiastic. I get a kick out of walking on the floor and seeing them learning the new jobs at GT and with a smile. Every day is a new day for them. It's great to see that enthusiasm, and the focus and attention that they put on their job.
You’ve been around a little bit. Do you feel like you know everything there is to know about manufacturing?

No. You always must put yourself in a position where you're learning. You always have to study. In our business we can't just assume we know everything. The world around us is evolving. The industry's evolving. Our competitors are moving, and so we have to keep up.
How does that philosophy carry over to the way you manage your people?

I’d like every single person in our plant think like an entrepreneur. I want them to see what they can do with a lot less and have that mindset. I believe that we should have a mindset of being a poor company that has to perform and produce like we are rich. It is also critical that we have good training for our team members who eventually become team leaders and then group leaders and on to assistant manager, manager, and above to sustain successful business operations.
A lot of times we think of Toyota Motor North America as mainly the U.S. But we have two plants in Canada and two in Mexico. Can you tell me, how do our Mexican plants fit into TMNA?

Mexico manufacturing is an integral part of our overall manufacturing strategy for North America. When you look at the triangle of TMMBC, TMMGT, and Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas, the three plants together give us the strength and the knowledge, the know-how and the capacity to meet the demand for both compact and large size trucks. We are able to efficiently utilize a supply base that is very strong and learn from each other and share good practices amongst ourselves to improve efficiency at all three plants. So, there's a lot of give and take, a lot of cross-pollination that goes on to help each other and make us a very strong entity to support producing trucks to meet the needs of our customers. Mexico, as I said, is an expansion of our strategy to become stronger in the truck market.

We have a pretty good footprint in Mexico.

It's getting there. We're getting there. You know, we are very proud of both plants, no doubt. Not because they're big, but because they're doing what we need them to do. That's to meet a very critical customer demand for trucks.
Congratulations to you and all the team members who had a hand in GT’s start of production.  And now with GT up and running, you have taken on an additional role. Can you tell us about TMNA’s Manufacturing Project Innovation Center (MPIC) and what to expect?
Thank you and yes, I was appointed group vice president of the newly created MPIC based here in Plano, under Chris Reynolds. I will continue to be chairman of Toyota Motor Manufacturing, TMMBC and TMMGT, in Mexico.
The MPIC is an exciting and necessary component of our transformation towards being a mobility company because we need to prepare team members for new technology improvements on the manufacturing side and make sure all our 15 plants in North America are aligned.  We are focusing on several strategic initiatives to prepare our plants for future advanced technologies involving CASE: Connected, Autonomous, Shared, and Electrification.  We will also be benchmarking and looking at all advanced processes that we need going forward to see how and where we can become more competitive.  
By Dan Nied and Dan Miller

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