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Rosa Santana Dreamer, Visionary, Trailblazer, Toyota’s Golden Girl

By Gloria Romano-Barrera.

“When you are a visionary and have the passion and drive to succeed, you are going to succeed in anything you do,” says Rosa Santana, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of the Santana Group; a group of companies providing innovative outsourcing solutions to organizations across all industries.

Santana had been working at Kelly Ser vices, a Fortune 500 Company, for 17 years making substantial financial impact. In 1998 Santana joined Westaff, Inc., a staffing organization, and in 2002, downsizing there led to new opportunities for Santana. With the help of her eldest daughter, Lisa Navarro-Gonzales, she founded Integrated Human Capital (IHC) in the U.S. market and also opened her cross-border company, Workforce de Mexico, in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. After three successful years, she expanded to Austin, Texas. In 2005, she participated in a mentoring program where she learned Toyota was expanding to San Antonio. Without delay, Santana opened a small office hoping Toyota would take notice. At this time, her youngest daughter, Nicole Navarro-Velesiotis, joined the company. Later that year, Santana attended Toyota’s Opportunity Exchange and has diligently attended for the last 13 years. In 2014, Toyota in troduced Santana Group’s Forma Automotive LLC as the company’s first Hispanic woman-owned direct Tier I supplier. Today, Forma Automotive supplies fully assembled beds for the award-winning Tacoma truck.

“People do business with you because you have integrity and deliver exceptional results,” shares Santana. “People are going to find you and will want to do business with you.”

The daughter to a single mother of five children, Santana immigrated to the United States from Ciudad Juarez, Chihuahua, Mexico, at the age of 5, speaking no English when she settled down with her family in El Paso, Texas. As Santana grew up, her mentors an d role models were her mom and grandmother. Her mother, Josefina, worked as a housekeeper at a hospital and then at a nursing facility and ensured she provided for Santana and her siblings each day.

“I recall very vividly what it was to have a mother who worked all the time, but she gave us a lot of love,” she states. “Mom always said ‘I work this hard so that you guys can do better’.”

For Santana, who describes both her mother and grandmother as strong, loving women, the sense of perseverance, responsibility, and drive instilled in her led her to be the person she is today.

“My mom also used to say, ‘Ustedes pueden ser lo que quieran ser, lo unico que deben hacer es trabajar duro.’ (You can be whoever you want to be, you just need to work hard at it.) My mother succeeded in bringing us here,” she says. “We come from a humble environment – the housing projects – but we had great family values, great orientation , and she was a hard worker. For me it is not about luck, it is about hard work, how we position ourselves, and our values instilled in us such as integrity, h onesty, and being trustworthy. Today I wonder how she did everything she did.”

Santana honed her own entrepreneurial skills by participating in several executive education programs, including completion of two Minority Business Executive programs at the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth University as well as the Advanced Management Education program at the Kellogg School of Business at Northwestern University.

With 20 years of experience in the corporate world, Santana saw herself doing greater things. “When I started working in the corporate world, I took to the staffing industry amazingly well; it fit me like a glove,” she says. “I was helping people get jobs, I loved what I did and that was ver y gratifying for me. Fortunately, I’ve placed myself in positions where I’ve had a tremendous amount of opportunity.”

For over 35 years, Rosa Santana has been a driving force within the U.S./Mexico staffing industry and is recognized internationally as an outsourcing expert. Santana is a fearless leader who harnesses her passion to successfully create and develop companies through outstanding client service and innovative business solu ti on s. As a visionary trailblazer, Santana’s integrity has established her staying power and success throughout the course of her career.

Santana’s continued commitment to integrity, innovation, and a continuous improvement culture drew the attention of Toyota procurement and supplier development leaders, and she was eventually selected to supply Toyota directly.

Cover-of-SABJ-Picture Plano-Group-Photo Rosa-&-Daughters Rosa-&-Grandkids-2 Rosa-&-Zoe Rosa-&-Zoe-December Rosa-_-Assembly-Floor-2 Rosa---Assembly-floor-1
(L-R) Toyota GM Ryan Grimm, CEO & President of NMSDC Adrienne Trimble, Rosa Santana, and Toyota Executive Vice President, Product Support Chris Nielsen. Rosa was invited to speak at Toyota’s Plano headquarters by Toyota’s Women Influencing and Impacting Toyota (WIIT) group about how she "started her impossible". August 3, 2018 at Toyota Plano Headquarters.

Making history with Toyota, Santana shares how building relationships has led to her business success. She tells the story of the time shortly after leaving Westaff, one of her customers called her seeking engineers. Today she credits that client with igniting the start of her own staffing business.

“We built a relationship with Toyota for over 10 years before we had the opportunity to work directly with them,” she shares. “When I was tapped by Toyota, we already had a relationship with their suppliers. One of their suppliers, Berto Guerra of Avanzar Interior Technologies, stepped up and said ‘I will help you,’ and I asked him, ‘Will you mentor me?’ He made a group of leaders available to help us as we entered the automotive and manufacturing industry, and today he and I are business partners in a different venture. Relationships are key, mentoring relationships are critical. Having been selected by Toyota is very powerful. The relationship we built with them over 10 years apparently demonstrated to them why I was worthy of becoming a supplier.”

“What we have experienced in five years is amazing,” she states. “They have groomed and mentored us to deliver results. Toyota doesn’t treat us as suppliers, they treat us as a partner, as family. The relationships that they cultivate with their partners is admirable. They truly take the time to get to know us.”

Whether it’s in the auto industry, staffing industry, or outsourcing industry, Santana thrives on serving and delivering the best results to her clients. “Rosa’s initial role at the plant was in providing staffing services to many of our 23 on-site suppliers.” says Chris Nielsen, executive vice president of product support and chief quality officer for Toyota Motor North America (TMNA), and executive general manager, Toyota Motor Corporation (TMC). “Success in that role has led to growth with Toyota beyond the San Antonio plant into direct staffing services as well as call center operations.”

Innovation and growth are in Santana’s mind at all times, and she takes every opportunity to keep moving forward. A couple of Santana’s favorite quotes “What you dare to dream, dare to do” and “plan your work and work your plan” have served as motivation. “I never felt there were any obstacles in my career. If there were any, I didn’t see them. I was too focused on excelling,” she shares. “We are always looking at improving everything we do.” Santana wants to clear the path for others and hopes the impact her businesses have had with Toyota demonstrates that there are other women like her that, when provided opportunities, can deliver results and scale.

“Toyota knows who is buying their product, they know who makes the decisions in households and they know that Hispanics are the fastest growing population in the U.S.,” she states. “At the end of the day, I believe Toyota recognizes these as business imperatives.” “Despite ongoing advancements in advanced technology and automation, the assembly of automobiles is still, and will likely remain, a people-centric business,” says Nielsen. “Rosa Santana and her Santana Group play a key role in the ecosystem of Toyota’s plant in San Antonio by providing high-value, people-centric services, which are central to the core of our operations. If the operation or service is people-centric, we believe Rosa can always be trusted to deliver high-value services that contribute significantly to our sucess.”

Santana encourages entrepreneurs to become certified as minority business enterprises through NMSDC or women business enterprises through WBENC and to network with suppliers. Most importantly, she encourages entrepreneurs to not shy away from any opportunities. For Santana, building great teams is key to her legacy of continuous improvement and exceptional customer service, and she strives to ensure that her businesses will continue to improve and grow. “I feel I have done my job when our customers tell me we are delivering results,” she says.

Her daughters, Lisa and Nicole, now serve as the Vice Presidents of Forma Automotive and Integrated Human Capital respectively, and Santana is positioning them to take the reins of the companies. “Growing a business like I have and evolving into a group of companies does not happen with one person,” she shares. “In front of me stands a phenomenal team of leaders and team members that make it all happen. Without them nothing happens.”

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