Toyota’s Carroll shows one person can make a big impact – Cincinnati.com
There are many ways to change a community – and in 27 years with Toyota, Helen Carroll has done just about all of them.
She has been the public face of Toyota in Northern Kentucky, not only weaving the company and its people into the fabric of the community, but also channeling millions of corporate dollars into local agencies, nonprofits and schools.
As the driving force behind the need to improve education in order to create a skilled, educated workforce, Carroll also has made business leaders rethink how they approach the issue.
“She’s been a mentor and a great example for business leaders on both sides of the river,” said Brent Cooper, a business owner and education advocate. “I put her up there with the Jim Votrubas and Bill Butlers. She is somebody who has been transformational for the region, and she is going to be sorely missed in that role.
Carroll, 59, of Florence, will retire Friday as community relations manager for Toyota Motor Engineering North America in Erlanger, though her title doesn’t even begin to describe the impact she’s had upon the region.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever met anyone who is so willing to continually give of herself 100 percent to a community,” said Debbie Simpson, chairwoman of the chamber’s board. “She is constantly stepping up, whether it’s on behalf of Toyota or on her personal time – she’s always there.”
Since Toyota hired her in 1987, Carroll has been guided by a simple philosophy: “Just being on the ground in the community and understanding the needs of the community.”
As Toyota prepared to open its Georgetown manufacturing plant, it asked Carroll, the daughter of prominent local business leaders, to help the company become part of the community. She took a grassroots approach: joining local business organizations like the Chambers of Commerce, Urban Leagues and United Way, developing a program to allow Toyota employees to volunteer in the community, and opening the company checkbook for worthy local causes.
Toyota made her strategy a companywide model at its manufacturing facilities across the nation and its manufacturing division headquarters in Erlanger, where Carroll arrived in 2000.
As in Georgetown, she joined the local chamber and United Way. It wasn’t until 2005 that Carroll began to realize the true impact she and Toyota could have in the community.
Through her involvement with Vision 2015 and as chair of the chamber’s board, Carroll began to see how education intersected with economic development and job creation – and how many obstacles there were to improving both areas.
For the next decade, she became a crusader for removing those obstacles so that companies like Toyota would have a pipeline of skilled, educated workers for the jobs of tomorrow.
Carroll’s passion for the topic helped make it a priority for the entire business community.
“She’s been the face of Toyota for a lot of us,” said Cooper. “She’s been the one championing those causes. If there’s a conversation about education in Northern Kentucky, she’s front and center. And Toyota and Helen Carroll have set the example for what the rest of the business community should be doing when it comes to education. They’ve helped connect the dots.”
Carroll didn’t just sound the alarm on the issue – she rolled up her sleeves and dove right in. She created programs like the bornlearning Academy, which puts young children on the path to success later in life, and NaviGo, which puts promising teens on the path to careers in manufacturing or engineering. She also helped bring several education initiatives into one organization, the Northern Kentucky Education Council.
And Carroll has brought the business community along with her: She championed one-on-one reading programs in local schools that bring business leaders right into the classrooms, giving them a firsthand look at the needs and challenges that exist in the community.
“She’s a coalition-builder: she has the ability to bring people together to work on something important,” Simpson said. “I don’t think everybody has that ability or the influence to get people of diverse backgrounds to come together.” ■