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‘Tini Bubble’

‘Tini Bubble’

Tessa R. Salazar

Ma. Cristina Fe “Tini” Natividad Arevalo’s rise from the ranks to become the president and CEO of Toyota Mobility Solutions Philippines Inc. is proof that there is no gender – and even size – bias in the auto industry perceived to be a man’s world

Being a top-level executive in the country’s number one automotive company, for a brand that’s consistently dominating the global stage, requires some serious cojones. One would think that it takes a man to keep such gargantuan corporate machinery going. But when you see a petite lady named Tini manning the wheels, you will have to admit you thought wrong.

And how many times have we been utterly surprised that women held positions of power and prestige in the auto industry? Let me count the ways:

The first woman to circumnavigate the world in a car was Aloha Wanderwell, who accomplished the feat in a Ford Model T between 1922 and 1927. Female inventors literally shaped the course of automotive design and engineering: The windshield wiper (1903); the internal car heater system (1893) and Kevlar fibers (1965); first female truck designer (1920s); non-reflective and anti-glare windshields (1938); auto signaling arm (1914). The list goes on.

So, it really isn’t a surprise that someone like Ma. Cristina Fe “Tini” Natividad Arevalo, in her petite 5’2.5” frame, would be president and CEO of Toyota Mobility Solutions Philippines Inc., especially since, according to her, “a high percentage of women” hold leadership positions in Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP).

“There is no gender-bias when it comes to work, despite this notion that the auto industry is a ‘man’s world.’ In fact, the presence of women in our production lines further proves this statement. I would say that aside from the talent and skills that women bring to the table, they make the working environment more nurturing, as people learn to become more sensitive. That being said, I did not really experience anything significant to make me feel that being a woman is a disadvantage in the auto industry. I can only cite memories of getting funny reactions from people I introduce myself to. When they learn I’m CEO of TMSPH, you’d hear ‘oohs and aahs,’” Tini quipped.

This ‘pocket rocket’ of an executive, standing barely above 5 feet in height, loves the Hilux.

Inherited sense of loyalty

Tini joined TMP in 1990, four months after graduating from college. Now in her 33rd year with the company, Tini credits her father for her staying power.

“I think I got my dad’s strong sense of loyalty and patience. I am one of those who truly rose from the ranks,” she said.

Tini’s father worked with the Philippine Airlines for 24 years before moving on to another airline. Her mom worked with a chemical firm before becoming a real estate broker. Tini’s siblings are in the medical and construction fields.

An “Earth Rooster” born in 1969, Tini schooled in St. Paul College of Paranaque, then completed her BS Tourism course in the University of Santo Tomas, where she graduated Magna Cum Laude.

While working for TMP, she took three short courses in a span of 18 weeks at St. Benilde College of the De La Salle University—for human resource management, organization development, and compensation and benefits management.

“I am, to this date, a student of the Toyota School of Hard Knocks,” she laughed.

The “student” excelled in this “school.” “Much of my knowledge and skills were developed through on-the-job training and mentoring, regional and global Toyota management courses, and local seminars and training related to the functions I handled throughout my career,” Tini enumerated.

Husband-and-wife team

Tini is one half of the husband-and-wife tandem in TMP. Her husband Dino is first vice president for customer service operations, a position he has been holding since 2021 after managing the value chain and customer engagement operations.

The couple has two daughters, who both took up Intarmed at the UP Manila College of Medicine. The eldest is now a resident at the PGH Dermatology department, while the youngest is graduating this July.

All-around staffer

Tini joined TMP when the company was only two years old. She came in as a member of the general administration division.

“I was an ‘all around’ staffer in my first year of work—supplies custodian, motor pool dispatcher, telephone operator, receptionist, etc. Then I got transferred to HRD, and that’s where I gradually enlarged the scope of functions I handled everything about HR. My longest assignment was in training and development. I spent 21 years in general administration and HRD. I was blessed with good mentors, who helped me grow in my career, and I rose to vice president of HRD. Then I got rotated to the corporate affairs group and became first vice president, overseeing a mix of functions—corporate planning, corporate PR, government and industry affairs, and information systems,” Tini narrated.

Afterwards, Tini was assigned to the marketing division, increasing further her scope to include demand and supply, product planning, dealer development, customer relations, marketing services, and business reform. Then she became first vice president for brand and product management cluster. Tini described this post as “a good 3.5 years of experience.”

“Like a woman, the Hilux is toughest on the road”

Radical pandemic shift

In 2020, as the Covid-19 pandemic was radically changing the automotive landscape around the world, TMP put up its new mobility business division, with Tini at the forefront.

“It was one of the most challenging jobs we had to accomplish. We established the new division by moving many people from various functions. All divisions had to give up a fraction of their manpower, without any replacement, in order to support this bold move. In a matter of three months, the division was set up. The new mobility business division spun off as a 100-percent TMP subsidiary in 2022. The speed at which things happened for this setup has never before transpired in the history of TMP. We were definitely on overdrive during the pandemic,” Tini recalled.

Diversity in TMP

What the pandemic failed to shake up in TMP however, was the spirit of inclusivity and diversity in the workplace culture.

“TMP has, since its inception, promoted diversity in the workplace. Even 30 years back, we had several women in leadership and management positions. Now, we have more. But if I look at Global Toyota, I would say that it took a long time before women were entrusted with bigger responsibilities and accorded executive roles. The norms for women in the workplace have been different in every country,” Tini explained.

Mobility solutions updates

Under the new mobility business division, Toyota Mobility Solutions Philippines was established to meet the changes unique to the country. “TMSPH has commercialized its range of mobility services. The latest that we introduced was the logistics matching platform. Very soon, the Toyota Car Rental Service will be launched. TMSPH also offers Kinto One Business, a full-service operating lease, for hassle-free user-ship experience,” said Tini.

What has made Tini stick to TMP, and the auto industry in general, for 33 years and counting?

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“The industry is constantly evolving and very dynamic. While it may be stressful, as we have to deal with many kinds of challenges to build our brand and organizational strength, as an individual, the learning and growth are endless. I am happy to have been a part of Toyota’s transition through the years,” she said.

“From my perspective, the toughest challenge has been keeping the auto manufacturing business viable and sustainable, amidst all the free trade agreements and gradual pulling out of other OEMs. This is a fight that we constantly have to take. And I would say that TMP’s sincerity and concern for the welfare of thousands of people in the whole supply chain of auto manufacturing is what keeps me inspired and grateful to be part of this great institution,” she added.

Loyal Toyota owner, too

It’s also no surprise that Tini has been a solid Toyota owner through all these decades.

She revealed that she has owned several Toyota cars since 1996: “Our very first was a 1996 Big Body Corolla. Later on, we got a Revo, Innova, Fortuner, RAV4, Hilux, and Corolla Cross.”

Nowadays, Tini drives her Hybrid Camry going to and from work. But her personal recommendation for other women working their way up their own career ladders is an iconic Toyota workhorse.

“Contrary to the usual recommendations for executives like a Camry Hybrid, Land Cruiser, or Alphard, I would personally suggest something that would promote work-life balance—a Toyota Hilux. It’s perfect for weekend adventures with family, it’s versatile and functional, and like women, it’s the toughest on the road,” Tini stressed.

Speaking of tough women, Tini shares some advice to those starting to make their own mark in the industry: “In my experience, success is not a result of your academic or family background. It is rather a combination of a positive attitude, a hunger for learning, a strong commitment through good times and bad, and a grateful heart to always look back to, stay humble and grounded, and appreciate where you are today,” Tini stressed.

Women for the future

Tini weighed in on the future of mobility, and what it holds for women.

“I think that the auto industry will eventually evolve into more usership platforms backed by data-driven solutions as the Filipino market matures. Right now, most of us are emotional about our vehicles. It’s hard to let them go. In other mature markets, they regard vehicles as mostly just tools to get them from point A to point B, and value the driving experience more than the ownership.

“Women in general seem to be naturally hardwired to multi-task. I think God created us this way to perform certain unique roles. So, when the auto industry as we know it now transitions into more diverse facets of providing mobility for all, I am certain that women will play a big role. The sensitivity, nurturing, and intuitive traits of women will add much value to a more customer-centric mobility service industry,” said Tini.

Spoken like a truly powerful, yet down-to-earth, woman.

This ‘pocket rocket’ of an executive, standing barely above 5 feet in height, loves the Hilux.