Alumna Lisa Materazzo ’90, MBA ’97 finds the road to success at Toyota
Materazzo is Toyota Motor North America’s group vice president of Toyota division marketing
Lisa Materazzo ’90, MBA ’97, loves cars.
“It runs in the family,” Materazzo says. “My dad was always very passionate about things that go fast. I grew up surrounded by cars.”
As Toyota Motor North America’s group vice president of Toyota division marketing, Materazzo is still surrounded by cars, in a job where she is responsible for everything from market planning to advertising to merchandising to social and digital media to NASCAR and motor sports.
It’s a role she worked her way up to over the course of more than two decades with the company, and over an even longer trajectory that includes her time as a student in Binghamton University’s School of Management.
Full of exciting twists and turns, Materazzo’s story has the energy of a high-speed car race.
Start your engines — we’re off to the races.
LAP 1: GROWING UP
Materazzo was born and raised in a small town whose claim to fame is a race.
Bainbridge, N.Y., located about 40 miles from Binghamton, is the finish line of the 70-mile General Clinton Canoe Regatta, the world’s longest single-day flat water canoe race.
“Very few people have ever heard of Bainbridge, so I usually have to anchor it in Cooperstown because people know that as the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. If they know where Cooperstown is, I tell them that’s close enough,” Materazzo says.
While she grew up in a family that loves cars, a career involving cars wasn’t always in the cards.
“When I was young, I wanted to be a hospital administrator. I didn’t even know what a hospital administrator was at the time, but I thought it meant I’d be taking care of people, which seemed like a good thing,” she says.
“And then for a while I wanted to be an author, because who doesn’t want to write the great American novel?”
Materazzo developed an interest in marketing and finance during high school, which ultimately led her down Interstate 88 to Binghamton University. Despite being a commuter student, Materazzo says Binghamton instantly clicked for her.
“You hope that you can find a university where you feel comfortable and that fits your personality, and I just remember feeling that instantly at Binghamton. It had this very authentic feeling. It felt like home,” she says.
As a School of Management student, Materazzo says her marketing classes had a major impact on her. “Anything related to consumer behavior really appealed to me. I was fascinated by the psychology of it all — understanding how people’s minds work, the power of persuasion and really getting into the behavior-side of things,” she says.
Materazzo says Binghamton ultimately checked every box she wanted out of a college experience.
“I was able to stay close to home. I ended up with a fabulous education. And it was ultimately a wise financial decision,” she says. “I was extremely fortunate to be able to graduate debt-free, which really gave me some flexibility as I began my career.”
LAP 2: MEANT TO BE
Working as an investment broker for a few years after graduation, Materazzo felt a continued pull toward marketing.
“I enjoyed working in financial services, but that passion for marketing kept knocking,” she says.
Materazzo decided it was time for a change, bringing her back to Binghamton University to earn her Master of Business Administration (MBA).
“I was glad I got some real-world experience first, but that was the tipping point where I decided to earn my MBA and do something more marketing-centric,” she says.
Materazzo continued working while completing the MBA program, balancing both her career and classes. Despite not knowing what the future held, she remembers feeling confident as she graduated with her master’s degree in 1997.
“Between my previous work experience and the MBA, I was confident that I would figure things out. I didn’t know exactly what was next, but I left Binghamton feeling very well prepared to take on whatever that might be,” she says.
Little did Materazzo know that the next step would reveal itself in a fateful trip to the West Coast. With the help of a recruiter, Materazzo went to California for a few days to interview with a number of banks and brokerage firms.
Both Materazzo and the recruiter shared a passion for cars and auto racing.
“The day before I was scheduled to fly back to New York, he called me and told me that if I could extend my stay, he’d be able to get me in for an interview with Toyota in its product planning department,” she says. “My first reaction was ‘product planning? But I’m not an engineer! There’s no way Toyota can or should hire me for this position.’”
After learning that the role was more marketing-focused than she originally anticipated, Materazzo agreed to the interview.
“The role was really about being the voice of the U.S. customer, and conveying their wants and needs to engineers and designers. It was about painting a picture of the marketplace to help determine everything from product requirements to pricing to styling,” she says. “Once I learned that, I was all in.”
Materazzo got the job, kicking off a storied career with the automotive giant.
“Being hired by Toyota is one of those things that I would like to say was part of my master plan and what I always intended to do because, in retrospect, it worked out so well,” she says with a laugh. “But that would be a lie!”
LAP 3: TAKING THE LEAD
Materazzo’s time with Toyota has been so robust that it may be easier to ask what she hasn’t done at the company.
“Toyota encourages you to move around to various parts of the company and gain a holistic perspective. I’ve had the opportunity to have, ifyou think about it, multiple careers all with the same company,” she says.
After some time working in product planning, Materazzo was asked to create a long-range market planning department in 2003, an opportunity she ranks among her favorites with the company.
“Rarely in a well-established company do you get the opportunity to start with a clean sheet of paper,” she says. “It was daunting in some respects because when you step into a role that’s clearly defined, you get handed a bit of a playbook. And this was not defined, but it was exciting.”
Materazzo was then promoted to the top marketing post for the company’s Scion brand, which was created to appeal to younger consumers. Scion garnered acclaim for its nontraditional “guerilla marketing” campaigns, which involved early adoption of unique online advertising to appeal to potential customers.
“Scion was created to be a laboratory for experimentation, she says. “There was this younger generation that was coming to market, and we knew that it was different from the generations that came before it. Our charter was to experiment, have fun, fail fast and try different things, but to make sure we were learning from it.
“We were small, we were scrappy, we made mistakes, but we were nimble and innovative. It was a great experience.”
Materazzo stepped away from the company in 2008, taking on new challenges in top marketing roles with Ridermakerz LLC (a division of Build- A-Bear Workshop that allowed customers to make customizable toy cars) and AOL Advertising (overseeing advertising for its automotive category).
However, she returned to Toyota in 2014, and was eventually promoted to vice president of marketing for its Lexus division. While the more luxury-focused Lexus brand was targeted to a much different customer base than the more youth-focused Scion brand (which was discontinued in 2016), Materazzo sticks to a consistent strategy.
“It’s really about listening to consumers and being able to understand what your brand is about. Fortunately with Toyota, Lexus and Scion, they all have very well-defined brands. We know what we are about and we know what we want to communicate to our audience,” she says.
Materazzo was promoted to her current role at the beginning of 2021. Working out of the company’s U.S. headquarters in Plano, Texas, she says that Toyota reminds her in some ways of Binghamton University.
“Binghamton felt like home. It felt great when I landed there and it was complete confirmation of my decision to attend Binghamton University. Working at Toyota feels a lot like that,” she says. “It’s a gigantic company, but it feels very much like a family setting.”
FINAL LAP: REFLECTIONS
Materazzo’s love of automobiles remains just as strong today as it did when she was a kid.
“I married a car enthusiast. We spend our vacation time basically chasing Formula One races around the globe,” she says with a laugh.
The fuel that keeps her career running in high gear goes beyond cars though.
“I love what I do. I genuinely love what I do. I love the company I work for, and I love my team. I’m blessed to work with a fabulous group of people,” she says. “The more I progress in my career, the more important that becomes.”
With time came the development of a big-picture perspective. When she looks back, Materazzo says the persistence she learned while a student at Binghamton University is a key quality that has stuck with her through the years.
“My education path was less traditional than others, but it taught me that sheer persistence does pay off, even if it may not seem like it at the time,” she says. “Looking back, hanging in there has clearly paid off.”