As Toyota's CEO for Latin America and Caribbean operations, Steve St. Angelo finds himself playing 3-D chess to keep ahead of the competition. St. Angelo's mission is keeping up with all of the region's auto markets simultaneously amid constant political and economic instability.
"You have 41 different chessboards and you're playing 41 games of chess all the time and you have to predict the moves your opponents are going to make," said St. Angelo, who is scheduled to speak Thursday at the seminars. His region comprises South America, Central America and the Caribbean.
Thankfully, the Japanese automaker rolled all those nations up into one management structure in 2012 before handing over the keys to St. Angelo a year later. Before that, he said, each one "would negotiate with Tokyo on what was best for their specific country."
Unfortunately for the former president of Toyota's Georgetown, Ky., manufacturing operations, his arrival came as South America was moving out of a growth cycle and into crisis, particularly among the three biggest players: Brazil, Argentina and Venezuela.
Still, Toyota invested $2 billion to get serious in a part of the world with more than 600 million people. The automaker's share of the market has risen from about 5 percent in 2012 to around 10 percent today.
"One benefit of getting everybody going in the same direction is being able to improve our market share significantly," St. Angelo told Automotive News. "A lot of people thought we were crazy" for making such a big investment at the time.