Chika Kako – Lexus’ first woman chief engineer

By Wright Communications

In a male dominated area of the motor industry Kako-san was the first to break through the glass ceiling and lead the development of a stand-alone model in 2012. Her most recent project is the Lexus UX, the company's first compact crossover which has just been launched at the Geneva Motor Show.

The UX is a new gateway vehicle for Lexus with brave design, exhilarating performance and imaginative technology. The bodywork is notable for the impressively flared front and rear wheel arches clothing a cabin with a driver focused cockpit and an open relaxed space for passengers.

Previously she was responsible for the current Lexus CT200h, the stylish urban hybrid hatchback and before that had headed a team which developed a station wagon version of the Lexus IS sedan.

Being a woman was an advantage according to Kako-san. "A woman in the automotive industry stands out and because of the small number of women there exist many opportunities," said the new Executive Vice President of Lexus International.

She took full advantage of those opportunities as they arose in her career. "Don't limit yourself worrying too much about the unknown future and doing nothing."

Imagine what you want to do, said Kako-san so you can move immediately when the opportunity comes. "I want to do this."

Kako-san came to lead a group of mechanical and design engineers from a rather unusual career trajectory.

She joined Toyota in 1989 with a degree majoring in Interface Chemistry and worked initially as a materials engineer in the Organic Materials Department, where she worked on developing interior and exterior materials and sound proofing.

In 2001 Kako-san became the first Japanese woman engineer transferred to an overseas position when she moved to the research and development department of Toyota Europe.

She studied sensory and perceived quality engineering conducting surveys with panellists on what Europeans felt important about the interior of Lexus models and realised their evaluation was quite different to the Japanese.

The move to Lexus was a great opportunity and on her return to Japan in 2004 she joined the Lexus Brand Planning Department and then the Product Planning Department in 2005.

Kako-san worked with both the RX SUV and IS sedan model teams, becoming responsible for the station wagon model in the IS range.

Kako-san has not been in a situation where being a woman has prevented her from pursuing a desired job. But when she learned she was to become the chief engineer for the CT200h she was puzzled "It exceeded my expectations, because I was the first woman to gain such a position."

In retrospect she wishes she had taken a career path that involved design and performance to further enhance her results in her current Chief Engineer role for the UX.

Influenced by a surgeon father who dabbled in ceramics and a music teacher mother Kako-san has emerged as a "car" person, who after starting her driving career in various models of Toyotas such as Starlet, Celica and an Avensis wagon, before moving into her latest drive, the Lexus CT200h.

She has a penchant for sports coupes and convertibles and would like to lead the development of a compact sports car in the future.

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