Salisbury, Once a Reluctant Recruit, Now Revels in his 20-year Ride at TMS
June 12, 2012
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In July, Vince Salisbury will mark his 20th year as a Toyota Motor Sales (TMS) associate. Not bad for a guy who, as a marketing major at Syracuse University, had to be convinced to even apply for the job.
“I wasn’t a car guy at that time. I didn’t have any interest in the car business,” says Salisbury, now the Lexus College dealer education manager. “But, in addition to being a student, I worked in the career center and used to help people write their resumes. A woman I worked with a year before ended up in Toyota’s MT (Management Trainee) program. She told me what a great company it was and convinced me to apply.”
Salisbury landed that entry-level position in 1992 and he hasn’t looked back since. From answering customer calls to hobnobbing with celebrities and a little bit of everything in between, it’s proven to be quite an exhilarating ride.
“It’s been fun,” says Salisbury. “There are so many great people working at this company—so many good quality people.”
Like many of those people, Salisbury got his start fielding customer concerns in the Toyota call center. After six months in the trenches, he had the option of being assigned to a field office or staying on in the call center for another six months, after which he would be free to pursue any opportunity within the company. As a transplanted New Yorker, he decided to stay put in sunny Southern California.
That move set the stage for the next. One of his tasks in the call center was to track customer complaints and share that information with other interested parties. Those connections proved fortuitous when a job opened up in Product Planning.
“The focus was on cross-vehicle features, such as audio systems and early versions of navigation,” says Salisbury. “I would sit in prototype vehicles and comment on what worked and what didn’t. I learned a lot about the products while I was in the call center. But this took it to another level. I become kind of a spec geek. It was very interesting work.”
One of Salisbury’s tasks was to compile documents detailing TMS’ specification requests for future vehicles, collect all of the relevant managers’ signatures and then fax the memos to product planners in Japan. Usually, the faxes needed be sent at the end of the workday in California so they’d arrive at the start of the workday in Japan. Salisbury came up with an ingenious method to expedite the process.
“I got a big glass jar and filled it with M&Ms,” he says. “Then, around 5 p.m., I’d start shaking the jar. And suddenly, the managers would emerge from their offices and stop by my desk. While they were grabbing some M&Ms, I’d ask them to review and sign the documents. It worked like a charm.”
Next up was his introduction to Lexus by way of Marketing Strategy. He wrote speeches for the department’s executives and “became a bit of a PowerPoint guru.” Two years later, in an organizational shake-up, he was asked to manage the brand’s presence at auto shows. All 75 of them.
“I had never traveled before and then, suddenly, I was on the go all the time,” he says. “We’d get the prototype vehicles before anyone else, so I would do walk-around presentations for the executives in a secret location. I also hired the product specialists who represent Lexus at the shows. That’s when I got my first taste of training and met Paul Williamsen (national manager of Lexus College).”
From auto shows, Salisbury made the move to Lexus event marketing. Among several accomplishments, he helped broker a partnership agreement with the United States Golf Association (USGA), the first ever for a car company with golf’s governing body in this country. That deal gave Lexus a presence at 13 leading golf championships annually, including the U.S. Open. For example, Lexus would set up a VIP tent at the golf course hosting the event, then give Lexus dealers the opportunity to invite their best customers to mingle with Lexus-sponsored professionals such as Annika Sorenstam, Johnny Miller and Jason Day.
Lexus also had the opportunity to display vehicles at the golf tournaments. To make the most of that opportunity, Salisbury worked with a vendor to reskin an LS with golf ball dimples.
“The USGA loved it,” he says. “The fans all wanted to touch it and have their picture taken with it, which was a way for us to collect consumer data and generate sales leads. It was a big hit.”
Similarly, Salisbury was the force behind the IS sedan decked out in yellow tennis ball fuzz for the U.S. Open tennis championship. He also blazed the trail for Lexus’ numerous partnerships with upper-crust chefs and five-star hotels and resorts.
Then, a year ago, three Lexus College managers retired. That gave Salisbury the chance to come full circle and return to his spec geek roots—but with a marketing flair.
“I feel like there’s so much that can be done at the College,” he says. “We’ve started to introduce iPads into the mix, opening up new ways to teach. And I think I have a lot to add with my marketing background. It’s not enough to just provide information. You also have to market that information—to sell it, if you will—to reach dealership associates.”
Looking back, Salisbury admits he didn’t exactly plot his course through the TMS org chart. While he chose some of the moves, others were made for him, as is typical at TMS. But, as he approaches his 20-year milestone, he wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It’s never been boring, that’s for sure!” he says. “They’ve all been interesting and good moves, but sometimes they just happen. You just get transferred. That’s why it’s so important that your manger knows your skill set. You don’t want to end up in a job that’s just not a good fit for you.”
By Dan Miller