Susan Elkington, senior vice president at Toyota’s Georgetown plant since January, will take the reins as Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky’s president next year, replacing Wil James. | Courtesy Georgetown News-Graphic

By Dan Adkins | Georgetown News-Graphic

For the first time, a woman will lead all operations at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky.

Toyota says that Susan Elkington, a senior vice president, will assume the Georgetown plant’s reins in 2018, succeeding Wil James who had helmed Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky since 2010.

Elkington will oversee the $7 billion operation that can produce up to 550,000 vehicles and more than 600,000 engines a year and employs more than 8,000 team members.

Elkington already was TMMK’s highest-ranking woman after assuming her current post in January 2017.

She had been highly involved in the early part of the production of the eighth-generation Camry, which shipped to showrooms this fall. The Camry is Toyota’s main sedan and has been among the top-selling cars in America for years.

James is retiring after having become TMMK’s president seven years ago. During his tenure, he oversaw two major investments in the Georgetown plant: the 2015 production of the Lexus ES350 and this spring’s announcement of a $1.33 billion revamping to increase its flexibility to respond to consumer demand.

Toyota officials said Elkington joins Millie Marshall and Leah Curry, top leaders at Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana, as women executives at some of the company’s manufacturing plants.

Elkington started her career as a Toyota mechanical engineer at TMMI in Princeton, Indiana.

Elkington has steadily risen at a number of Toyota plants across America and in Japan prior to her arrival here last winter.

Most recently, she worked at Toyota’s global headquarters in Japan where she served as the company’s first female general manager.

While in Japan, she served as general manager of the Production Control Division, project general manager of Project Planning and Management, and project general manager, Global Production Center, all at Toyota Motor Corporation’s global headquarters in Toyota City.

Her start was in the company’s Princeton, Indiana, plant as a mechanical engineer before being asked to head the plant’s production engineers and its maintenance operation.

“I went, ‘I don’t have experience in maintenance.’ They said, ‘Well, we think that you can do it,’” Elkington told the News-Graphic in September.

Their confidence in Elkington started her on a path of continuous advancement through the company.

James became familiar with Elkington a few years ago at TMM-Indiana.

“While on assignment at Toyota Indiana several years ago, I had the opportunity to observe Susan’s people-first approach to leadership first-hand,” James said.

“Combined with her vast technical knowledge and global production experience, we are lucky to have her join our team in Georgetown,” he said earlier this fall.