Tonja Cochran (’89): Director of NAFTA Transportation for Daimler
August 8, 2013
While other job offers may have seemed to better fit the Accounting degree she had earned from Evangel, Tonja Cochran felt led in a different direction after college. After much prayer and consideration, she accepted a position working in logistics for an automobile company.
More than 17 years later, there is peace knowing that God led her in the right direction.
After holding a variety of positions within Mercedes-Benz U.S. International (of Daimler AG, a German multinational automotive corporation), Cochran now serves as director of NAFTA Transportation.
“This is a significant position,” says Bernie Dana, chair of Evangel’s Business Department. “Tonja is humble and hers is a great testimony of following God’s calling to excellence in the business world.”
Cochran says her education at Evangel helped build the solid foundation that has put her where she is today.
Growing up in an Assemblies of God household in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, she was familiar with Evangel from an early age. When she began attending Evangel in 1985, her brother, Frank Cochran (’88), was already a student.
During her time at Evangel, Cochran joined Ministries of Evangel College Students. She traveled with a vocal ensemble for a year and then served as the organization’s treasurer during her senior year. As treasurer, she had the opportunity to raise money for missions, which she says has always been close to her heart.
“This was a great experience for me,” she says. “It provided an opportunity for ministry as well as the chance to develop strong friendships.”
She later pursued her MBA from the University of Alabama, graduating in 1996. Immediately following her graduation, she began working with Mercedes-Benz at its SUV manufacturing plant in Vance, Alabama. She began by working in logistics, a job in which she not only planned and controlled the department’s investment budget, but also worked with developing and implementing new internal material delivery systems to support the production process.
“I had some other employment opportunities that were closer to my background of accounting and finance,” she says, “but I prayed about it and felt this was the right course for me.”
Logistics may have been where she started, but over the next 10 years, Cochran held six different positions within the company. To this date she has held nine.
“I rotated and learned as many job functions as I could, which helped prepare me for future roles with more responsibility,” she says. “The more I rotated and cross-trained, the more opportunities for growth and promotion were presented to me.”
In 2008, Cochran was promoted to the position of senior manager of Supply Chain Management, where she headed a team in optimizing the plant’s supply chain system. She says she was excited for how the new opportunity would help her grow.
“I was pleased by the confidence placed in me,” Cochran says. “I also was a little intimidated by the responsibility that came with the position, but I knew the Lord would help me in this role, as He had in all the ones previous.”
Then, in March of 2012, Cochran moved into to her current position as director of NAFTA Transportation. As director, she now leads the team that plans and procures the transportation services which deliver parts and finished vehicles to plants and dealers.
Cochran says that Evangel prepared her for her career by challenging her in a balanced way: not only academically, but spiritually as well. She says that what makes Evangel stand out most is the opportunity for students to live and learn in a Christian environment.
“The most important distinction about Evangel University is the testimony of Jesus Christ,” Cochran says. “I am thankful I was able to attend a Pentecostal school where my faith could be reinforced and strengthened while earning a competitive academic degree.”
As she continues to grow in both her career and her faith, Cochran has this advice for current and future students:
“Pursuing an education at Evangel will start you on a journey of growth, adventure and destiny. The Lord has wonderful plans for your life. There are so many things about the future that you cannot know or predict, so you need the One who does know to guide you. Like it says in Proverbs 3:5-6: ‘Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight.’”