TOKYO -- Takanobu Ito took the helm of a teetering Honda Motor Co. in June 2009 with a curious mixture of pride and angst.
The global financial storm was bearing down hard. And his predecessor, Takeo Fukui, was ruthlessly slashing costs and gutting some of Honda's most promising programs, including the V-8 Acura and NSX sports car, to keep the company in the black.
"Feeling honored was 47 percent of my reaction," President Ito recalled of being tapped for the top job. "Thinking 'this is going to be very tough' was about 53 percent."
Indeed, for most of his tenure, Ito has struggled to right the ship.
But now, after three years in office, the blunt-talking executive who joined Honda because he wanted to work on motorcycles and airplanes is ready to put his recovery plan into action. Sweeping revival plans that he has quietly been slipping into place are taking hold.
The overhauls encompass everything from product planning and design to technology. Ito hopes they will not only recoup lost momentum but deliver record growth.
Little did he know in 2009 how tough the turnaround would be. The yen's climb to record-high, profit-eating exchange rates and then last year's double-punch of natural disasters hammered Honda hard.
And, worse, a company long praised for fleet-footed innovation was flat-footed on new product. Customers and critics snubbed nameplates such as the Honda Insight and CR-Z -- even the once-bulletproof Civic small car. Signs of big-company disease crept in; Honda was chasing numbers but had a tin ear for the market -- something even company leaders admit.
Honda had lost its mojo, and Ito knew it.
"I understand when people say that Honda had not been doing very much for two-and-a-half, three years," Ito, 58, said in a recent interview. "When people looked at it from the outside, they found it difficult to understand what was happening."
Yet behind the public facade of inaction, Ito was busy building a comeback strategy.
Hallmarks of his handiwork:
-- An overhaul of the company's entire drivetrain technology.
-- Global restructuring of product development.
-- New blood in design.
-- Streamlined management aimed at faster decision making.
This fall's high-stakes launch of the redesigned Honda Accord sedan -- marking the U.S. debut of the new powertrain -- will test Ito's efforts.
More changes will follow, including a next-generation Honda Fit small car arriving next year. The Fit will be produced through the company's radically new regionalized product development process. Also in the works is a new design language aimed at spicing up traditionally staid styling.