Jeff Rufener, former president and CEO of Toyota Material Handling, was honored with the 2023 Meritorious Service Award by the Industrial Truck Association (ITA). The 72-year-old association for industrial truck manufacturers in North America has recognized leaders dedicated to serving the organization and advancing the material handling industry with this prominent award since 1992.
“Jeff was an integral part of the material handling industry for over four decades serving in various leadership roles,” said Brett Word, Toyota Material Handling North America president & CEO. “Not only did he lead Toyota through transformational changes, but with his humble and inspirational leadership, Jeff motivated others to embrace challenges and improve each day. He was always passionate about Toyota’s culture of Kaizen – to continuously improve – and the core purpose of ‘Helping People Carry the Load’.”
Rufener contributed to the ITA for more than 20 years, serving as ITA chairman from 2009-2011, as well as serving on the executive committee and as a board member. He helped found the inaugural National Forklift Safety Day and acted as the first-ever chairman of the task force, laying the foundation for safer operational practices for years to come. Rufener advocated for increased safety in the material handling industry through operator training, educational programs and product and process efficiency improvements.
Rufener also recognized the necessity of sustainability and energy efficiency within the industry. Under his direction, Toyota launched more than 20 electric forklift models, strengthening the organization’s position as an industry leader.
“I am humbled to receive such a special award from an organization I love so much in the ITA,” Rufener said. “The ITA is so impactful because of its culture, its people and a noble core purpose – the same three tenants that make Toyota great. I’m proud to have been part of both groups and will never forget what we accomplished together.”
Rufener emphasized corporate social responsibility. One of Rufener’s philanthropic initiatives included the development of Toyota’s partnership with the American Red Cross. Serving as chairman of the board of directors for the Red Cross’ Southeast Indiana chapter, Rufener established a multifaceted initiative of corporate, dealer and associate support. His leadership led to countless donations from Toyota dealerships throughout the country of rental equipment, time, expertise, money and regular blood drives, as a testament to the relationship of the organizations.
During his tenure at Toyota which began in 2011, Rufener oversaw the company’s headquarters transition from California to Indiana. Then in 2020, he led the integration of Toyota’s two Columbus-based companies, Toyota Material Handling, USA (TMHU) and Toyota Industrial Equipment Manufacturing (TIEM), creating a single company. Since his retirement in 2021, Bill Finerty, Rufener’s successor, has carried the charge of continuing Toyota’s role as the leader within the material handling industry.