U-M alum Jeff Makarewicz is passionate about U-M, helping students find their passion (hopefully in engineering), and how Toyota can live their values through U-M partnerships.
We sat down with him recently to learn more about what makes a good industry partner, how Toyota recruits on campus, what advice he has for students, and more.
Q: Why do you think it is important to foster strong relationships between companies and universities?
A: There is a symbiotic relationship between companies and universities. Companies need the talent and research capabilities that universities provide while universities have to understand industry needs and trends in order to properly train and prepare their students.
Q: How did you become the executive sponsor for Toyota’s relationship with U-M?
A: Simply, I asked. I volunteered for this role because I believe in the quality of education and research advancements that U-M has to offer. It is my small way of giving back and passing down the knowledge and contacts that I have been fortunate to acquire.
Q: What advice do you have for other industry executives considering sponsoring engagement with U-M?
A: I sincerely value our partnership with U-M and love working with U-M faculty. Toyota sponsors a lot of U-M student teams. In the past it was merely writing the check. It’s important for the teams to have this commitment, but we want to take it one step further. What’s more important is the in-kind contribution. It’s getting involved with the team, working on problem solving, mentoring, sharing our culture and giving our time.
That’s where our commitment to U-M stands; we don’t just write a check, we get involved. For anything Toyota does in this space, our ROI is tenfold. If we get several students into our pipeline by showing up for the teams and participating in a deep way, they then continue that dialogue with next generation. It’s a win-win.
So my advice is, walk the talk. It’s easy to become a sponsor by providing money or donations (which is really important), but it’s also important to invest with in-kind contributions where sponsors engage with both the faculty and students.
Your Role as Alumni, Advisor and Partner
Q: You’re a proud U-M alum; can you speak to your U-M experience as a student and how your relationship to the university has evolved over the years?
A: U-M is rated as one of the top public universities in the country, and this is something that should make us all proud. I truly have a U-M family; I really enjoyed my time as a student, as did my wife. I have been able to continue this connection through my two oldest children who recently graduated from U-M, and my youngest, who will enter U-M this fall. So my family (and money) all go to U-M.
My degree – and all of those long labs that were a part of it – led me to a career in automotive materials, which in turn led me in other avenues at Toyota where I am the Group Vice President responsible for advanced mobility engineering today. In addition to serving as our corporate liaison to the university, I also serve on the Mechanical Engineering External Advisory Board.
The key to my growth was the continuous learning and challenging – skills that I developed at U-M.
Q: What excites you when you come to campus?
A: As an avid sports fan, I love coming back to the campus for football, basketball, baseball and hockey games and walking around campus. Some things remain exactly the same while other things change, as does everything in life. It is nice to reminisce about old times and the fun (and work) we experienced, but it’s also wonderful to see how the university has grown and evolved. I see students walking about and know they have so much promise as our next generation of leaders in all aspects of society. So many opportunities await them.
Q: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A: I played football against Jim Harbaugh (granted – it was in the 5th grade)! We played against the Ann Arbor Packers, where Jim and John were on same team. I played for the Allen Park Bulldogs. I believe we beat them in the regular season but lost to them in the Peanut Bowl.
A friend and I ran into Jim recently and showed him a photo of that game – and he still remembered all of the players’ names by their numbers.
Q: What do you find most rewarding about your role fostering collaboration with U-M?
A: Toyota’s R&D headquarters has been in the backyard of U-M’s campus for over 40 years. We design, develop, engineer, procure and have advanced research here for many of our North American products. So being able to identify win-win situations that benefit both Toyota and U-M creates a great partnership.
Recruiting at U-M and Engaging with Students
Q: What are some challenges in recruiting students?
A: During the last recession, the brand image of the auto industry really took a hit. Bankruptcies and layoffs left a lasting impression on the younger generations. Therefore, many recent graduates have been reluctant to consider a career in automotive, or they prefer to go out to Silicon Valley to make their mark. We are working hard to change this perception.
It is a really exciting time in the automotive industry, and the pace of change and technology is remarkable. The best way to change perception is to get out and interact the students, and we need to inspire, mentor and engage students early in their college career.
Q: What should students know about career opportunities at Toyota?
A: Toyota is a global company, with a broad presence here in the US (over 170,000 direct and indirect employees in the US), and we are always looking for good talent for not only R&D, but purchasing, sales, marketing, manufacturing and many other areas necessary to design, development, manufacture and sell vehicles.
U-M offers educational expertise in all of these areas. Toyota R&D and the Toyota Research Institute are both only about 10 minutes from central campus, and we hire from all disciplines in both engineering and non-engineering fields. We also have a robust internship program – so I encourage students to check us out.
Q: How is Toyota connecting with students?
A: The market, especially for engineers, is really tight, and we realize that graduates have many choices. Therefore, it’s important that we make early connections with the students. As such, we have initiated a number of activities including sponsorship of U-M athletics, engaging and interacting with student teams and student groups, and promoting internship/coop opportunities.
Q: What advice do you have for U-M students?
A: Take advantage of internship programs to gain different experiences – not just on career choices, but company choices. It’s important to find a company that has similar values to your own.
When you look for a company, you want a career, not a job. You want a place where you can be challenged and grow continuously. You want to be happy and excited to come to work. To do that, you need to find a company whose values align with your own. Find the culture that meets your personal values, that’s where you can succeed and thrive. That’s where you’ll want to come to work every day.
You recently came to campus to speak at the College of Engineering’s Center for Engineering Diversity & Outreach. What was that like?
A: Actually, I joined a small team from our technical center and attended a portion of CEDO’s summer camp consisting of 9th grade students from several Detroit/Southfield school districts. Our purpose was to introduce them to the auto industry and encourage them to pursue a career in STEM. We provided a short presentation on what engineers do and brought several interesting vehicles for them to see. We also served as judges for their design projects. It was great to connect with the students and share with them that several of us had classes in the very classroom they were sitting today.
Our advice was simple, if you like to ask questions, then you may be a future engineer.
Mobility and the Future of Automotive
Q: What are some areas in future mobility and automotive engineering where you see exciting opportunities for faculty and students to work with industry?
A: The automotive industry is in the midst of a once in a century transformation, with new technologies, new services, and new competitors redefining traditional business models. Major disruptors such as connectivity, automation, shared services and electrification are shaping the future, and no one company can go it alone. Therefore, there’s a tremendous opportunity for collaboration in all of these areas.
Q: A diverse workforce is a big part of that transformation. What motivates Toyota to support K-12 (MEZ), diversity (Wolverine Pathways), and other community outreach efforts?
A: We believe that U-M’s outreach for giving underserved youth opportunities to have upward mobility and exposure to the world of STEM is important, and we continue to partner in those programs.
We hosted 5 Wolverine Pathways student interns this summer. I was extremely impressed with these rising high school seniors. We lose many engineers to other industries and to out of state businesses. A program like this helps us support budding engineers and build interest in the field. We can focus on keeping them here and developing more talent, finding people from all neighborhoods and backgrounds who want to stay and help us reignite the passion for Michigan and the automotive industry.
Q: What kinds of innovations and technology might people see at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo?
A: Toyota is a worldwide partner and the official Mobility sponsor of the Olympics and Paralympics through 2024 under the tag line of “Start Your Impossible”, because we believe when you’re free to move, anything is possible. Toyota R&D is also a sponsor of U-M Olympians.
As you mentioned, the 2020 summer games will be hosted in Tokyo, a short train ride from Toyota City – so Toyota will have a major presence highlighting our “mobility for all” commitment. You may get a glimpse of our e-Palette – a battery electric automated driving platform that will help transport the athletes and staff around the venues and villages. You may also see hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Be on the lookout for lots of robots taking on various shapes, designs, and purposes.