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Founders Day: Toyota CEO James Lentz receives Professional Achievement Award

“I was fortunate that my own internal values, my core, matched those at the University, and I was also able to find that at the company I worked for, as well,” says James Lentz. “I think you can be successful, but you can also be happy.”

“I was fortunate that my own internal values, my core, matched those at the University, and I was also able to find that at the company I worked for, as well,” says James Lentz. “I think you can be successful, but you can also be happy.”

For James Lentz (BA ’77, MBA ’78), success and core values go hand in hand.

It’s a lesson he’s been learning — and following — from his childhood to his years at the University of Denver to his corporate career at Toyota North America.

“The structure of my values started [when I was] growing up in a small town in a suburb of Chicago,” says Lentz, this year’s recipient of the Professional Achievement Award. “My dad was a salesman; I understood what hard work was about. Growing up playing on football teams and hockey teams and baseball teams, I understood what teamwork was. And that continued when I went to the University of Denver.”

Focusing on values, especially teamwork, has paid off for Lentz professionally: He worked his way up at Toyota for years, eventually landing as chief executive officer of Toyota North America, overseeing all of Toyota’s North American affiliate companies.

“It’s about how important teamwork is to business today, how important it is that people respect each other, how important that people are trying to get better, how people challenge themselves. Those are all values that Toyota has,” says Lentz, who also is president and chief operating officer of Toyota Motor North America Inc. and a senior managing officer of parent company Toyota Motor Corp., located in Japan. “But they are also values that are at the University of Denver.”

Lentz still sees that firsthand at DU, where he serves on the executive advisory board at the Daniels College of Business and recently spoke at the college’s Voices of Experience lecture series.

“I was fortunate that my own internal values, my core, matched those at the University, and I was also able to find that at the company I worked for, as well,” he says. “I think you can be successful, but you can also be happy.”

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