By Dennis Seid
BLUE SPRINGS – While being named vice president of administration at Toyota Mississippi was an unexpected role for Mike Botkin, the veteran automotive executive also saw it as a great opportunity.
“I’ve been put in charge of areas I haven’t had in the past – human resources and cost management,” he said. “So it’s really kind of refreshing to get a new look and get re-energized.”
Botkin, 56, started his career with Toyota Motor Corp. in 1988 while he was working at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
Toyota Motor Corp.’s first North American plant opened in nearby Georgetown that year.
“My wife worked at Toyota in information systems and said, ‘Hey, there’s an opening here that looks exactly like what you’re doing at the university.’”
He was an engineering assistant at UK, in charge of improving and coordinating safety programs and procedures on campus.
“So I went to Toyota and, of course, it was nothing like the university,” he said with a smile.
“But I’ve been fortunate to have some great teachers and mentors and was able to be promoted through the years.”
Among several roles he’s had with the Japanese automaker, Botkin was general manager of logistics for Toyota’s North American operations before being named vice president of production control in 2013.
Before being named VP of administration at Toyota Mississippi in March, he had helped Toyota prepare its move of its new North American headquarters to Plano, Texas. There, Toyota is consolidating its manufacturing, sales and marketing divisions in one central location. Manufacturing has had its headquarters in Kentucky, sales has been based in California and marketing in New York.
“I had done all the planning and organization and merger for a large group, and my wife and I went there and were geared to go there,” Botkin said.
However, in November, he was asked to move to Blue Springs instead to take over for Sean Suggs, who is now vice president of manufacturing at the plant.
Botkin admits to having mixed feelings after he got the news. He had put quite a bit of effort in planning the move to Texas, and expected to be living in the Lone Star state soon.
But he and his wife, Debbie, made a quick trip to the Magnolia State to check it out.
“It was great,” he said. “We loved it.”
He and his wife bought a house and moved into it in March. They do plan to make trips back to Kentucky as often as possible, since their children, Taylor and Alex, still live there.
And while Botkin spends much of his time at the 2,000-employee plant, he looks forward to pursuing his favorite hobby in his new home.
“I like to fish and there are a lot of lakes around here,” he said.
As vice president of administration, Botkin oversees all areas of administration including human resources; safety; general affairs; accounting and finance; and production control.
He sees his role differently at the plant when compared to his earlier positions at the corporate level.
“The two different roles are both important, of course, but the corporate level takes a higher, broader view of North America, whereas in the plant, things move more quickly,” he said. “I had missed that. I really enjoy the pace at the plant. It’s quick. There’s always environmental changes as well as priority changes. So it’s great to be running again, so to speak.”
Toyota Mississippi began production in October 2011 and produced its 500,000th car early last year – the fastest a Toyota plant has reached that milestone.
“I’ve got a great team; Sean left me with a lot of great people,” Botkin said. “Sometimes it’s hard for me to see where I can add value because there are some new areas I don’t have expertise in. But one of the things I’ve accumulated through my experience over the years is the Toyota Way. So those are the areas where I can contribute and add value.”
He has been impressed by what he’s seen at the plant from top to bottom.
“I can remember our first five years in Georgetown, and I don’t remember being at this level so early,” he said. “So it’s really a compliment to these guys. They’ve done a great job preparing and operating it. … it’s amazing, their level of understanding, the depth of understanding of the Toyota Way as well as their capabilities to solve any manufacturing issues. It’s a really great team.”