Ask a Leader: Interview with Troy Graziani

Dave Walton

Learning from a Leader: Career Development Advice

Interview with Troy Graziani, Director of Credit & Customer Experience, Toyota Industries Commercial Finance, Inc

July 2021


Interview conducted by Garland Brooks, Sr. Advisor Business Enablement & Sales Optimization, Dell Financial Services and edited by Jacob Fahl, Opportunity Development Leader, Hitachi Capital America Corp. Both are members of the ELFA Emerging Talent Advisory Council. Learn more about this interview series.

When did you first join the equipment finance industry and what has been the trajectory of your career?

I joined our Commercial Finance division in 2015 but have been around equipment leasing since joining Toyota in 2010. My first experience was with our sister company, Raymond Leasing Corporation in Greene, New York. In 2012, I had the opportunity to work at Toyota headquarters in Nagoya, Japan on a global sales finance initiative which helped facilitate start-up finance companies in several countries. Returning to the U.S. in 2015, I was the project lead which carved out our U.S. commercial division into a standalone entity from our automotive partner. Since then I have been fortunate enough to rotate through many leadership positions in FP&A, Pricing, Business Intelligence and Credit & Operations. I am currently the Director of Credit & Customer Experience with Toyota Industries Commercial Finance.

What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced in your own professional development? How did you overcome it?

I moved into my current role in late January 2020. I’m responsible for several customer-facing departments, and six weeks into the role the pandemic hit. Like most everyone we moved to working from home, which we handled quite well. However, suddenly leading a large (and relatively new) team through Zoom calls is not something I was prepared for. It was a challenge to connect with people. The day-to-day unscripted interactions which build team chemistry were largely gone. To make up for it, I tried to connect with people through as many different avenues as possible – 1:1’s, virtual team activities, an email note simply to say Hello and Thank You. Communication is not as fluid virtually. It is tough to read body language and be in tune with non-verbal cues. The need for an inclusive atmosphere and dialogue only became more pronounced with the circumstance. It has been a great learning experience for everyone. Ultimately, I think our teams have emerged stronger.

When did you first get involved with ELFA and how have you been engaged as a Member thus far? How has being in ELFA helped your career?

I started to get more actively involved in 2016 working with [ELFA staff member] Bill Choi on the Survey of Equipment Finance Activity reporting. Bill asked me to represent Toyota on the Captive & Vendor Finance Business Council Steering Committee in 2018. I then Chaired the Committee in 2019 & 2020.

ELFA has provided a fantastic opportunity to network with other companies, many facing the same challenges. I have joined the Capitol Connections event in Washington, D.C., twice, which is a great window into how some of the major decisions affecting our industry are made.

What is the most rewarding risk of your career?

Moving to Japan and having the chance to work at Toyota HQ for two years. At the time, I had yet to venture much farther than the borders of New York State, so it was an intimidating opportunity. Arriving with little more than two suitcases 13 time zones away, living in Asia taught me as much about culture, respect for people and life in general as it did about business. The relationships built there will last a lifetime.

If you had to pick one, which is more important when considering a hire—a soft or technical background? You can’t pick both, and please include which soft or technical skill is most beneficial to success.

Soft skills have been the consensus choice here, and for good reason. A famous phrase at Toyota is “monozukura wa hitozukura” which means “making things is about making people.” Soft skills and emotional intelligence are key in bringing this to life. Without the ability to connect and collaborate with others, technical talent alone will never reach its full potential.

What are the top 3 pieces of advice you would give to someone just entering the industry?

  1. Be vulnerable. Take some risks and try new things. Not every choice you make will go as planned. We all make mistakes. It is what we learn in the process which makes us grow.
  2. Be the CEO of your own career and overt on where you want to go. A mentor can be great for both personal and professional development.
  3. Get involved with ELFA! The organization does tremendous work for its member companies and has a world-class staff. Take advantage of the many resources available.

Given that ELFA recently updated its mission statement and strategic plan to affirm its commitment to diversity and inclusion, can you give some perspective on what your organization has done or is doing to promote diversity and inclusion?

Toyota is committed to providing an inclusive work environment where people feel welcomed, valued, respected and heard. We are creating common understanding about DEI through monthly workshops called Building an Inclusive Culture. One event I really have valued are panel discussions led by our associates where they share their own stories of inclusion, advocacy & allyship. Often times, the stories shared are those where individuals have felt excluded or disrespected in their careers and what they have had to endure in certain situations. These realities can be hard to hear but provide a great learning and key point of reflection for the audience. Personally, the conversations have enriched my perspective and highlighted the importance of allyship in the workplace.