Honda President Takeo Fukui: Remove the wall between engineering and production.
Fukui is giving more authority to regional executives of most operations. He also is requiring product-development and manufacturing engineers to work more closely with one another.
Honda's engineering-based culture, born when the company was a scrappy motorcycle maker, is widely admired. But Fukui wants to avoid the bureaucratic habits of large corporations.
"As engineering and production get bigger, there would be a wall between them," Fukui says.
To empower regional managers, he is creating a position: operating officer. In rank-conscious Japan, these managers will be equal in status to board directors.
But because operating officers will not be on the board, they won't return to Tokyo every month for board meetings. In the process, Honda will shrink its board from 36 to 21. Some of the operating officers will work out of Tokyo.
Toyota Motor Corp., Nissan Motor Co. and Mitsubishi Motors Corp. have similar structures designed partly to ease the travel burden on executives based abroad. Japanese law practically mandates board members' attendance at meetings.
Fukui wants the 21 operating officers, who will be named in late June, to concentrate on their operations, not on board duties at headquarters.
Honda's U.S. operations, among others, will be affected immediately.
The heads of Honda's manufacturing complexes in Marysville, Ohio, and Lincoln, Ala., for example, will give up their board duties to become operating officers.
Those executives are Akio Hamada, 56, president of Honda of America Manufacturing Inc., which operates the Marysville and East Liberty, Ohio, plants, and Takashi Yamamoto, 52, president of Honda Manufacturing of Alabama LLC in Lincoln.
Two Honda executives in Torrance, Calif., also will become operating officers: Takuji Yamada, 48, vice president of American Honda Motor Co. Inc., the sales arm; and Hiroshi Soda, 48, vice president at Honda North America Inc., an administrative arm.
All four report to Koichi Kondo, CEO of American Honda Motor Co. Kondo, 58, will retain his board seat and remain in Torrance.
Fukui's second change breaks a long-standing tradition at Honda of placing the company's product development corps above all other departments.
Fukui has reassigned Motoatsu Shiraishi, a senior managing director in charge of worldwide production, to lead Honda R&D Co., the carmaker's product engineering arm. Shiraishi, 58, is the first executive in 21 years with no experience working at Honda R&D to oversee product development.
The president of Honda R&D, Takanobu Ito, 51, is moving to the top post at Honda's Suzuka, Japan, plant, which builds core models such as the Civic and Fit compacts.
Analysts generally do not see the move as a demotion for Ito. Rather, they say, Fukui is sending a loud message to Honda's various engineers that they must work cooperatively.
"The important thing is that engineering and production work together," says Noriyuki Matsushima, an analyst at Nikko Citigroup. "If either one or the other goes ahead, it won't be good. They have to put out a good quality product with low costs."
You may e-mail Yuzo Yamaguchi at [email protected]