BRUSSELS - During the hot summer in Phoenix, Arizona, most golfers get up at dawn and aim to finish their game by 7 a.m., when the temperatures are becoming unbearable.
Not Javier Contijoch. When he goes to the US desert to visit his wife's family, he heads for the golf course whenever he can, sometimes at noon - when the ground is hot enough to fry an egg.
'I love to play golf and I go out there when I can,' says the Spaniard. 'OK, people look at me as if I'm crazy.'
The determination to go against the elements may have been a factor in Contijoch's rapid career rise in the past 10 years. He'll need it in his current job, too - trying to boost Toyota's Lexus brand in the heartland of luxury sedans.
He recently became Lexus brand director at Toyota Motor Europe. Contijoch is charged with making Lexus as coveted a marque in Europe as it is in the USA. It's a tough job, since Europe is home to established luxury players like Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Jaguar and Audi.
But the thirty-nine year old is ready for the challenge.
'I took the job because Lexus has fascinating and very sophisticated products,' he said. 'It was underperforming in Europe to a point that wasn't logical. In the premium segment, you only have to give Lexus a chance to have the same success as in the USA.'
Contijoch has followed a career path similar to that of Juan Jose Diaz Ruiz, Toyota's executive vice president of sales and marketing. Like Diaz Ruiz, he started at Ford and then moved to the Volkswagen group.
Diaz Ruiz moved from Audi to Toyota in late 1997. He lured Contijoch away from Audi last summer.
After receiving a management degree in the mid-1980s in Phoenix - where he met his wife Gina - Contijoch returned to his native Barcelona to look for a job in banking, auditing ... or perhaps the automotive industry.
He chose the latter. In 1985, Ford hired Contijoch as a trainee in Spain. The program allowed him to work in many departments over a two-year period.
'Ford has an incredibly good system that allows you to learn the basics very quickly and gives you a fundamental knowledge of the business that you can apply everywhere,' he said.
After the trainee program ended, Contijoch went into marketing. He worked there for two years and was ultimately made responsible for Ford's dealer network in Spain.
He was hired by VW's Seat brand in 1989 and put in charge of opening new export markets, including east Germany, Sweden and Turkey.
He was transferred to Audi in 1993, taking responsibility for the brand's sales in Spain. 'It was an extremely fascinating period,' he said. 'When I joined Audi, it was just starting to separate its sales operations from VW. I was very involved in launching Audi as a separate franchise.'
In 1995, Contijoch was named head of VW group's light commercial vehicle sales, marketing and aftersales in Spain. It was his first chance to work across the entire sales and marketing operation.
His first foreign posting came in 1997 when he was given the job of establishing sales and marketing for Audi in Argentina.
He had barely started when Diaz Ruiz convinced him to come back to Europe. It was a challenge he could not resist.
Working at Toyota's headquarters in Brussels fascinates Contijoch, who had mastered some Japanese before he took the Lexus job.
'At Toyota, there is a pan-European environment,' he said.' You work alongside people with a wide range of nationalities and see all these cultures amalgamating.'
For relaxation, Contijoch and his family travel.
'We get in the car and go to the Netherlands, the UK and Germany. There are never-ending possibilities.'
The Lexus job has cut into the time he can devote to golf. He has managed to play only a few times since moving to Belgium last August. But Contijoch will get his chance again this summer during the family's annual vacation in Phoenix.
'I try to play golf every other day when in Phoenix,' said Contijoch. 'Golf is a pleasant experience. It's not an aggressive sport and you're in contact with nature and friends.'