Jim Hall will never forget his first day on the job at Stanley Electric Co. Ltd. in London, Ohio.
Hall was hired in 1985 as the personnel manager at the Japan-based supplier. He was one of the company's first U.S. employees. When he arrived for work, he expected to spend some time getting settled in his new office.
Instead he was escorted to the assembly line. At one station a woman of small stature was putting together a headlamp unit for Honda of America's assembly plant in nearby Marysville, Ohio.
Hall was asked: "Do you think you could do this?"
"I took a look and figured that certainly I could do this," Hall says. "But it wasn't long before the parts started piling up on the table and my forehead was covered in sweat."
After two weeks on the assembly line, Hall says he had become proficient at putting headlamps together. But more important, he says, it taught him the value of having hands-on experience and solving problems by "going to the spot."
"At the time, I though it was wasted effort," says Hall, 63, who now holds the title of supreme adviser at Stanley. "But looking back, I don't think so. It really established the camaraderie that's so important."
A close relationship between workers and managers is something Honda looks for in its suppliers, says Larry Jutte, head of purchasing for Honda of America Manufacturing. Inc.
From small beginnings in the late 1970s, Honda last year bought about $13 billion in parts and materials from about 600 companies in North America. In the beginning, about 75 Honda suppliers here came from Japan and were familiar with the Honda Way.
Stanley followed Honda to the United States in 1979 for the start of motorcycle production in Ohio. Today the company supplies all headlights, taillights and turn signals for Honda in Ohio and Alabama, including lights used on cars, motorcycles and all-terrain vehicles. A second plant in Battle Creek, Mich., supplies lights to Toyota, Nissan and Mazda. The company has 800 employees.
Although several Japanese suppliers came to the United States with Honda, the automaker didn't have the same vast network of interlinked suppliers, or keiretsu, that Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. did. So Honda had to teach its ways to American suppliers, too.
For some it was a shock.
Doing business with Honda meant allowing Honda engineers into supplier factories. The carmaker's engineers studied and improved production lines and pushed for zero defects at the start of production. The suppliers shared sensitive financial data with Honda to reach target prices while still maintaining a profit for the supplier.