TOKYO - Hiroyuki Yoshino took the reins at Honda of America Manufacturing Inc. in June 1988. He might as well have jumped on a rocket just before ignition.
Over the next four years, Honda's Ohio manufacturing complex doubled in size, from 5,000 employees, or 'associates,' to 10,000; began full-scale engine production; and expanded its U.S. engineering and purchasing efforts.
About 30 times a year, Yoshino met with groups of 15 to 20 new hires. Each was allowed to bring one guest - a spouse, say, or family friend.
For every gathering, Yoshino made a 30-minute welcoming speech, explaining Honda's philosophy and saying what the company expected of its associates - namely, that every associate would be expected to help solve problems and help improve the company.
And seemingly every time, during the question-and-answer session that followed, a new associate would express surprise at that expectation.
'Someone would say, 'This is my fifth company, and the others never asked me to propose improvements,' ' recalls Yoshino, now executive vice president of Honda Motor Co. Ltd.
Yoshino would explain why the new worker would be counted on. The associate on the line repeats the same processes 700 to 800 times a day, he would say. 'You're the person who best knows how to improve the process. I won't know what's best,' he told them.
'Their surprise was a surprise to me,' says Yoshino. 'Worker involvement was a given in Japan, but it wasn't in America yet.'
To drive home the idea of personal involvement, Yoshino walked the talk - literally. He spent two days out of every two months touring the plant. From 6 a.m. to 7 p.m., he met associates on the line. According to his pedometer, it was about a 15-mile journey. A colleague later computed that over his four years, Yoshino had walked the equivalent of Marysville to Cincinnati to Columbus, and back to Marysville.
In terms of teaching the auto industry new plant-floor management styles, Yoshino exemplifies those who truly went the extra mile.