In 2013, Hilaree Freml and Jeff Buchanan filled out profiles in an online matching tool called Mentor Scout, and its algorithm paired them up as mentor and mentee.
Seven years later, they continue to check in with one another, even though both have cycled through multiple roles and relocated to various facilities throughout Toyota’s North American operations. Their mutually beneficial work relationship, it seems, is an oasis of calm amid the shifting sands of corporate change.
“We talk less often now than we did in the early years, but we still make an effort to stay in touch,” says Buchanan, who was recently promoted to vice president of Guest Experience and Retention, based at TMNA headquarters in Plano. “To be honest, I don’t look at it as a mentorship anymore. It’s more of a partnership.”
“We’ve both been all over the place, but at least once a year we manage to get together in person,” says Freml, dealer services operations manager at Toyota Financial Services’ facility in Baltimore. “For instance, I have family in Denver, so Jeff and I were able to meet while he was general manager of the Denver Region.”
Why has this connection endured? Because, Freml and Buchanan say, it still serves as a source of context and counselling as the demands of their respective careers have continued to rise. And both have, indeed, made their marks.
Separate Paths, Shared Lessons
Buchanan got his start in 1997 with an internship at Longo Toyota in Southern California, joined Toyota’s sales and marketing organization a year later, worked his way up through the Scion ranks, served as an assistant general manager and general manager in the Denver Region and then general manager of the New York Region, before circling back to headquarters in 2019.
Freml, meanwhile, has spent her entire 13-year career with TFS, initially with a Customer Service Center in Iowa followed by moves to Dealer Sales and Service Offices in Texas, Maryland, New Jersey and then back to Maryland. She’s headed to TFS’ Service Center East in Atlanta later this year.
Separate paths. Different challenges. Yet each has benefitted from the lessons they’ve learned, and shared, along the way.
Interestingly, though, both worked as bartenders in their pre-Toyota days. Could that, at least in part, explain why this mentoring relationship has gone the distance?
“Well, birds of a feather do tend to flock together,” says Freml.
Mostly what they share are the day-to-day challenges of the work and managing the people they rely on to get it done. Though Buchanan’s been immersed primarily in the sales and marketing of Toyota vehicles and Freml’s focus has been partnering with dealers to help finance vehicle purchases, there’s still plenty of common ground.
And when one of them has hesitated to venture beyond their comfort zone, the other has been there encourage them to go for it. Case in point: Freml’s decision to pursue an MBA at the University of Syracuse.
“I was worried I wouldn’t be able to get it done,” she says. “But Jeff’s not the type to let me off the hook. He was very helpful and supportive. He reminded me that it was the perfect time for me to earn the degree and that if I missed out on this opportunity, I’d regret it.”
“To me, it showed just how unbelievably committed Hilaree is,” says Buchanan. “It’s incredibly impressive that she was able to get that done while also being great at her job.”
A Career Building Strategy
Freml and Buchanan believe all team members should actively seek out mentor-mentee relationships, but do so in a strategic manner. Their recommendation: think about where in the vast and wide-ranging Toyota organization you’d like to go next, then reach out to someone who’s already there for guidance.
“As a manager, I can plant the seed. But it’s up to the individual to take the next step,” says Freml. “There’s never been a time when I’ve asked someone for help and they turned me down. The vast majority of the people who work here want to be part of someone else’s success.”
“It’s up to you to take control of your career development,” says Buchanan. “You have to be willing to seek out mentors and be open to being a mentor to others. It could start with something as simple as an email that says, ‘I would love to have the opportunity to learn about what you do.’ Most people will be very happy to do that.”
“You’re never worse off for having a larger professional network,” says Freml. “It’s certainly worked for us.”
Want some help establishing a mentoring relationship? HR has a program
that can point you in the right direction.
By Dan Miller