Executive Insider: Zack Hicks

As the CEO of Toyota Connected and EVP/Chief Digital Officer for TMNA, Zack Hicks imagines the future of Toyota and Lexus technology. That future is now.

September 04, 2019

If you spend time talking to Zack Hicks about work, leadership and organization, you may notice he never uses the word “problem.” He prefers to call problems “opportunities.” And that’s a good thing. In his roles as CEO of Toyota Connected and EVP/Chief Digital Officer for TMNA, optimism is essential. Hicks and his teams are tasked with imagining solutions that deliver on Toyota’s promise to create ever-better cars and an ever-better society. Learn more about how Hicks is getting it done by watching the video above or reading the full Q&A below.
 
Driver’s Seat: You have a lot of job titles. How do you get it all done?

Hicks: I wouldn’t be able to do it without an amazing team. Each one of these roles ties in nicely with each other. It allows me to have a more global reach, but also allows me to deliver things that are useful here in North America.

You are TMNA’s first-ever Chief Digital Officer. Why is that important?

Essentially, as our products become connected, our vehicles become connected. We’re using technology in every aspect – from vehicle ordering, vehicle supply, interacting with customers in and out of the car, with our dealers and manufacturing facilities. So, there’s an opportunity to take those data sets and make better and faster decisions, know more about our customers and make better products.

Connected technology is a competitive space. How is Toyota doing compared to its competitors?

Well, I think we’re doing much better than we were a year ago or even two years ago. We’re starting to see that in our J.D. Power results. But I can tell you with our next-generation vehicles you’ll see at the end of year 2020 – we’ve redesigned the whole user experience. We’re testing that today, and it’s the same scoring mechanism that Apple and all consumer electronic companies use to score usability. And we’re going to blow away our competition with what we’ve got coming in the pipeline.
 
Dreaming Big -- Zack Hicks leads teams of data scientists, software engineers and designers at Toyota Connected. The company is working on Toyota's mobility intelligence platforms. 

That’s exciting. And inspiring. Given all your responsibilities – what are some of your favorite things about your roles here?

What I love about these roles is that they’re forward-looking. I’m able to see these opportunities that exist in the marketplace, leverage technology, understand where customers want to go and triangulate those to get in front of demand and bring our customers solutions that they haven’t even asked for yet. Then, we surprise them with amazing experiences in the car. So if we can create that love for Toyota and create a stronger brand, then I’m excited about delivering those game-changing technologies.

What are you most proud of?

I’m so proud of all the things we’re doing at Toyota. It’s such an ethical company, where we really want to do the right things -- not just for our consumers, but also for society. We’re using those investments to make the world a better place. So I’m proud to work for a company that’s putting its money and efforts towards those things we preach. It’s a tremendous opportunity.

When you think about leadership, what motivates you?

The world is changing so fast. The job we hired you for yesterday, the world has changed and we need you to do a bigger job. At Toyota, we’re given opportunities to lean into those gaps and stretch ourselves. We see opportunities everywhere. I say, empower yourself. Do what needs to be done. Don’t wait for someone else to do it. With the world changing so fast and with our transition to a mobility company, we need everyone to help us and lean in.

I know family is very important to you.

Yes. I travel a lot so I’m not home as much as I’d like to be. But I have a husband and an 11-year-old son. He’s in middle school and plays a lot of sports. So when I’m in town, I spend a lot of time on the soccer or lacrosse fields. At Toyota, we understand that family is important to each of us. We’re given opportunities to have work/life balance.

What are you driving?

A Lexus NX. I love it. It’s such a great car. I love the height, and the utility of having the extra space. It feels very futuristic. I’m thinking of getting a Supra, but I’m not sure how all my son’s sports equipment will fit in the back. I’m negotiating with myself.

What was your first job?

When I was 14 I was a dishwasher in a diner. My mom used to joke about that, because she said I’d never washed a dish in my life. So I probably wasn’t qualified.

Well, it’s different when you’re getting paycheck.

That’s right!

Do you have a favorite movie?

Probably Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I seem to watch it every time I come across it on TV.

Favorite book?

Whatever I’m reading at the time. But there’s a book I keep coming back to. Whenever I change jobs or take on more responsibility, I read a book called The First 90 Days. It’s a book that reinforces the importance of being the new person and ask innocent questions – without feeling the responsibility of having all the answers. So I read it to remind myself to go into whatever new responsibility I have and really just be the new person and listen.

What about career advice? You’ve had a great trajectory here. What would you say to a new team member hoping to follow in your footsteps?

A couple things come to mind. One is that you should just be yourself. A lot of times, early in your career, you may want to emulate other people. I think it’s more important to empower yourself to be who you are and bring yourself fully to work. The second thing is – and it took me until later in my career to understand this – when I would see gaps in the organization or opportunities I’d wonder, ‘why isn’t my manager, or their manager, doing something about that?’ But then I realized that maybe my manager may not be seeing the same things I was seeing. Or maybe they’re seeing it through a different lens. And I realized that if I see opportunities, I shouldn’t wait for somebody else to do something about it. That I should empower myself to lean in.

By Kristen Orsborn

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