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Honda Shifts Focus from Autonomy and Independence to Harmony and Collaboration on a Global Scale Leadership Training as a Key Factor 

Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Keiichi Yasuda

With the emergence of electric vehicles, autonomous cars and other such innovations, big changes are taking place in the field of mobility – changes that are sure to have a great impact on the world. But how will Asia, whose markets are currently in the midst of major growth, view and respond to such changes at home? And how will companies in Asia view human resources development (HRD) issues from the perspective of both domestic and global strategy?
We sat down to talk with Keiichi Yasuda of Honda Motor Co., Ltd., who has played a leading role in the development of global HR strategies at the company. After working in Japan, Yasuda was assigned to Asian Honda Motor in Thailand to handle local personnel operations, and later relocated again to serve as the managing director in Malaysia.


Shifting focus toward global harmony and collaboration rather than differentiating between headquarters and subsidiary staff

Yoshiko Taguchi (CELM ASIA): The mobility field has come to focus in recent years on elements of CASE, which stands for “Connected, Autonomous, Shared, Electric”. The existence of this word alone tells us that huge transformations are now taking place throughout the industry. Mr. Yasuda, what changes have you personally witnessed in the Asian market?

Keiichi Yasuda (Honda): The truth is, we have yet to see a significant number of four-and two-wheeled vehicles utilizing CASE-related, cutting edge technologies in mainland Asia. It’s also a bit too early to expect any major, transformative impacts on supplier organization in terms of parts and so forth.

Wider Asia, outside of countries like Japan and China, has been undergoing full-fledged motorization in recent years, with much emphasis on offering high-quality products at low prices, and I feel it is important to continue pursuing commercial operations, as we have up until now, based on this ideal. However, several nations in Asia have already started their transition toward the use of electric vehicles. This may be a bit hard to believe considering the current states of these markets, but that doesn’t mean one should just stand by idly and watch while everything changes. The big challenge facing our entire industry today is how to work with governments on drafting relevant industry standards, building infrastructure and taking other steps necessary to prepare for the upcoming popularization of electric vehicles, connected vehicles and the like.

So where do we start? Traditionally, we had adopted an approach centered on autonomy and independence, focusing on each country or region separately. This stems from the common way of thinking that it’s effective, and just plain natural, for local personnel in each country to take the lead in initiatives for their own country. However, as large-scale innovations and changes such as the introduction of electric cars begin to occur on a wider scale, it’s becoming necessary to pursue international collaborations. This might require, for example, having nations who have made the most advances in the field take the lead, or perhaps provide support and assistance for the other nations.

When it comes to the matter of developing leading-edge technologies, individual overseas subsidiaries don’t have the ability to do this on their own, and such an approach would be highly inefficient. It might be best to leave advanced manufacturing operations to Japan, and have engineers from around the world come to Japan in order to bring back relevant technologies, techniques and knowledge to their own countries. With the way things are today, it’s important to move past distinctions between headquarters and subsidiary employees, and instead widen our perspective to enable a more global approach focused on harmony and collaboration.


Prioritizing local conditions

Yosuke Sato (CELM ASIA): Have you noticed any gaps between the approaches of your HR strategies developed while working at Honda headquarters in Japan, and actual conditions and results experienced at overseas subsidiaries in Asia?

Yasuda: I don’t believe the HR strategies themselves were flawed, but I did notice some unexpectedly large disparities between what I had hoped for and the reality onsite in Asia. As a result, I have slightly changed my way of thinking regarding the areas which require the most attention, the pace at which changes need to be implemented and so forth.

For example, I was originally under the impression that there were already many employees who had the skills necessary to move up the corporate ladder right away and become part of the executive staff, thus the fact that we were not fully utilizing these human resources was the main problem. I figured that by simply eliminating barriers such as their inability to speak Japanese and lack of business connections in Japan, they would be able to move up right away, but things didn’t go so smoothly in reality.

In simple terms, our way of doing things up until now has entailed leaving the creation and decision-making for important policies, plans and proposals to our network of human resources in Japan, after which personnel based in other countries are tasked with implementation alone. However, even if these local staff understood how to carry out their assigned tasks, I found that they were seldom able to fully understand what to do specifically or why they were doing it. Many refused to ever stand up to their bosses and would simply quit if assignments became too troublesome – these behaviors seem to be influenced by local cultural upbringing in many cases.

While it’s important to have an overall vision of what you hope to achieve, it’s vital to take the initial steps toward your goal based on actual onsite conditions rather than just plowing ahead without thinking of the people involved. In this regard, I may have rushed things a bit at the start.


Work that makes a real difference: communicating well and often to motivate others

 Yasuda: Personally, I have started to see things in new ways since I began working in management here, and I wish I’d made some of these discoveries sooner! It’s a similar situation with HR development: in order for people to grow, they must experience things in new ways and expand their perspective.

In today’s world, subsidiaries in other countries cannot be expected to grow and expand by merely looking at their own market and never beyond. They must make full use of varied resources in order to do work that really makes a difference. Toward this end, it is necessary to widen one’s perspective and see things in new ways, which is only possible by gaining experience in a diverse array of areas. Actual hands-on experience is just as important as planning abilities, staffing skills and the like. One must master their own specialized field while also working on gaining experiences in others. As someone who has spent much of his career in the HR field, you’d think I would have realized this well enough already, but the importance of it has really hit home for me only in recent years.


On many occasions, I have gone up to employees at Honda subsidiaries outside of Japan and told them, quite suddenly, that because they are a member of Honda’s global team, they should go work overseas. Most of them were more than a little surprised, as they failed to see any good reason for leaving the locally-based company they had joined and planned to stay long-term at and instead work at another corporation—even one within the Honda Group—in an entirely different country. However, I would tell them time and time again that transferring overseas is absolutely necessary for them to do work that they find to be truly meaningful, and that it would help them develop their career further. In many cases, they took my words to heart in the end.

In order to help workers overcome the obstacles and limitations posed by factors such as differing levels of experience and language skills, I believe that it is important for someone in a position such as mine to focus on communicating well and often. This is one quality that members of overseas subsidiaries expect from their leaders.

In addition, it strikes me as problematic that, even though transferring overseas has become very common in Japanese companies today, there are still so few frameworks that promote greater diversity. This is something that Japan needs to work on in order to become truly globalized.

Taguchi: When you say that Japan needs to become globalized, I feel there are some complex implications behind your words. Perhaps this “globalization” includes the abilities needed to, as you said, overcome the obstacles inherent in differing levels of languages skills and experience, as well as things like flexibility and encouraging employees to think for themselves…?

Yasuda: In the end, it’s hard for a person to truly understand something and make it their own unless they have come to the conclusion themselves, and often that is the only way to grow. While it’s much easier in a position like mine to simply give orders and have them followed without question, it’s better to hold oneself back from doing so and instead encourage employees to think on their own, and to come up with their own answers.



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