It became a practice at Honda America Manufacturing in Marysville, Ohio, to use my book American Spirit as a management development text. This resulted in an invitation to visit and present to the Honda management group. I spent two days touring the plant, speaking with managers and production associates, sitting in on meetings, and asking lot of questions. Why is Honda so good? The answer is both simple and complex. There is little that Honda does that is completely unique. There is nothing that stands our as their secret to quality. The secret is – they do everything – and they do it as a team.
I find that in every healthy corporate culture there is a common understanding of philosophy, the values and visions upon which decisions and practices are based. The management practices, the structure, systems, skills, style and symbols are consistent with the philosophy. At Honda there is clearly a “Team” culture.
Even before entering the building, the philosophy became evident. As we drove towards the plant I noticed lines of newly planted trees. I was told that they were planted by newly hired associates. Each new associate plants a tree “so they can grow with the company”. All associates (the term used for all employees) know the company philosophy. They see it every day in a hundred ways. They hear is consistently from their leaders. There are no contradictions.
The president of Honda of America is Shoichiro Irimajiri, known as Mr Iri by the associates. Earlier in his career, Mr Iri was responsible for managing Honda’s successful racing efforts, designing engines, and managing production facilities in Japan. He frequently speaks of the “Racing Spirit”. The racing spirit includes five principles:
1. Seek the challenger.
2. Be ready on time.
4. Quick Response.
5. Winner takes All
Perhaps more instructive of the Honda philosophy is his story of one of his early racing efforts.
It was in 1965 when Mr Iri was working on the Formula 1 racing engines. In the British Grand Prix of that year, the engine failed and it was torn down and examined by Mr Honda himself.
Examining the failed piston he turned to Shoichioro Irimajiri and demanded, “Who designed this piston?” “I did”, he acknowledged. After examining the engineering drawing Mr Honda roared out, “You! Studid! No wonder the piston gets burned. You have changed the thickness here”. After young Irimajiri attempted to defend his design change with some data from previous engines, Mr Honda roared again: “I hate college graduates! They use only their heads. Do you really think you can use such obsolete data obtained from old, low-performance engines? I have been making and designing pistons for several years. I am fully aware how critical half a millimetre is here. A company does not need people like you who use only their heads. Before you laid our this design, why didn’t you listen to opinions of those experienced people in the shop? If you think academic study in college is everything, you are totally wrong. You will be useless in Honda unless you spend more time on the spot for many years to come”.
“You will go to the machining shop”, Mr Honda ordered the young engineer, “and you will apologise to every person there, for you have wasted their efforts”. Mr Honda followed him down the hall to make sure he did as directed. Mr Iri recalls that he was only glad that he had no ambition of becoming president of the company. He was not even sure he would succeed as an engineer. He learned his lesson. He not only succeeded as an engineer, designing several racing engines, but he became the president of Honda of America, the first Japanese company to export cars back to Japan. Shoichiro Irimajiri still listens to those experienced people in the shop and he is not wasting their time.
The Honda philosophy stresses to be on the spot in the plant and see the problem, touch the part, and...
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