A Baseline of Respect

“My diversity commitment is everything I say and don’t say — it’s everything I do and don’t do. That tells others what I value and believe.”

It’s a principle Sean Suggs first realized as a young recruit in the Army — long before becoming the president of Toyota Motor Manufacturing Mississippi (TMMMS) where he exemplifies this very virtue today.

In 1984, the busses came to a halt. An 18-year old Sean watched as his fellow recruits scrambled around him — powered by the barking sounds of the drill sergeants demanding a swift disembarkment.

It was a duffle bag drill. Dogpiled below were the new arrivals’ bags. There, a team of enthusiastic enforcers encouraged the speedy recovery of each bag, inspiring action with choice words. As the recruits pushed their way through to hunt down each bag, Sean remained on the bus.

He knew that if he just waited a few moments — if he didn’t allow the noise to drive his actions — finding his bag might be an easier feat. As the transport thinned out, a drill sergeant leaned in, and the metal exterior amplified his unyielding voice like a bullhorn.

Yet, Sean took his time — and just as Sean had suspected, he was able to identify his bag with ease.

Once they arrived at the barracks, two drill sergeants approached Sean and asked him to return to their office.

“Private, why didn’t you get off the bus?”

Sean recalls the moment he heard the question, “I grew up in Baltimore — in the inner city — and always heard I couldn’t trust white people. Out of about 30 recruits, only three of us were African-American, and the two drill sergeants were not — I didn’t know what to expect.”

Sean explained his thought-process to the sergeants. He’d stayed on the bus because if he allowed the others to get their bags first, he would be able to retrieve his bag more readily. And with that statement, the drill sergeants offered Sean the position of platoon guide for the first month of basic training.

“They weren’t thinking of my color — they were thinking of my capabilities. And in that one moment, they crushed my preconceived biases and made me realize not everyone was the same,” recalled Sean. “For me, it was that experience that truly exemplified having respect for people and being inclusive.”

Reflecting over his twenty-plus year career, it’s the pillars of The Toyota Way that resonate deeply with him.

“Everyone deserves a baseline of respect,” says Sean. “I’ve had a wonderful journey with Toyota. They have always looked at my capability and not my complexion. When hiring, we are looking at how this person can add value — what will their contributions be and how hard will they work to achieve our goals.”

At TMMMS, Sean has promoted and hired diverse leaders at every level both externally and internally and is heavily involved in supporting Diversity and Inclusion within the community, as well. From speaking at graduation commencements on behalf of Toyota to attending the Civil Rights Museum with his leadership team to gain insight and become better leaders and team members, Sean is at the forefront of embracing Continuous Improvement and Respect for People through his actions.

“Some people think we should ‘pick up the pace’ with diversity, but it’s all about that Continuous Improvement piece. Just look at the last three to four years — our recent placement in DiversityInc’s Top 25. Our way — The Toyota Way — is a steady climb. The steps are important because we want to sustain our success. Living the pillars is who we are — it’s in our DNA — every person deserves that baseline level of respect, and that’s what makes us so special.”

At the end of the day, Sean Suggs demonstrates that it’s our daily talk — and our walk — that honors Toyota’s longstanding commitment to Diversity and Inclusion.

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