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Establishing Belgium Honda (Part 9)

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The Future: A Lesson in Overseas Expansion

Mr. Fujisawa paid a visit to Belgium Honda out of concern for the situation. "In the end," he said, "the basic rule of factory operation is to produce only as much product as can be sold." Therefore, after that, Belgium Honda began working together with the local associates in an effort to rebuild. So valiant was the effort, in fact, that not a single associate was laid off. The associates of Honda factories in Japan, as well as the R&D Center, even contributed, helping to support Belgian production and product enhancements. For their own part, most of the local associates chose to stay with the company and share in the hardships faced by the Japanese staff.

Unfortunately, though, the challenges were to last many more years, despite numerous attempts to improve things.

In 1964, Koichiro Yoshizawa was assigned to manage the Sales Division at Belgium Honda, in the hope that the company could be revitalized. Several times, Fujisawa told him "Once you withdraw, you'll never be able to come back again. To do so would entail a tremendous amount of money and effort, and it would most certainly hurt our reputation. So, we'll also help you out from Japan. Please see the situation through, no matter how tough it gets."

The EEC's original policy had thus been a very real threat to Honda's business activities in Europe, and in response, the company's top leadership had decided to establish factory operations in the region. Accordingly, the factory was launched through the concerted efforts of numerous associates, who in overcoming differences in language and culture managed to establish a system of their own.

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The factory's September 1963 opening ceremony was arranged so that it would coincide with the first anniversary of Belgium Honda's founding. Soichiro Honda flew in from Japan to share the joy with his local associates. (Photos courtesy of Mr. Hideo Iwamura and Mr. Ryoji Matsui.)

The Japanese way of thinking and doing things, however, was not always compatible with the ways of its European hosts. As a result, the company could not fully comprehend the demands of the European market, and this brought significant hardships to Honda's people, including many local associates.

The hardships, on the other hand, became assets that Honda could apply to its eventual expansion overseas. Many of those who experienced trying times in Belgium later became involved in Honda's global growth, helping run production bases around the world. The bitter lessons of their Belgian experience were to be quite useful in the success of future efforts.

"The Belgian experience was one of hardship in every aspect of work, including production, sales, development, and management," Yoshizawa recalled. "But through such experiences, I believe the lessons learned about corporate activities overseas were effectively conveyed to the Honda associates by word of mouth. It probably wasn't even necessary to put them down in writing."

Belgium Honda did rebuild, though, and is now an important producer of automotive parts as well as a marketer of motorcycles, cars, and power products. Prior to that, in 1978, Honda Europe was established in Gent, Belgium, as a center for the distribution of products and parts located along a canal front, convenient to expressways and railroads. Today, Honda Europe single-handedly prepares the distribution of automobiles shipped from Japan for the European market, and provides supplies of locally obtained parts. By removing some of the burden that would otherwise be placed on Honda corporationas throughout Europe, it plays a major role in improving services and the distribution of goods throughout the continent.

Honda Europe enjoyed a very smooth launch, thanks in large part to years of work in Belgium, during which Honda earned the praise, understanding and cooperation of the local community.

Accordingly, the Honda Belgium Fund was established in 1981 for the purpose of supporting cultural and technical research exchanges between the two countries. The offices for this venture were set up Belgium Honda, which continues as a leader in Belgian-Japanese cross-cultural activities.

Belgium Honda, having gone through years of hardship, had thus succeeded in extending its range of activity to many areas. It is a success story that would not have been possible if it were not for the hard work, dedication, and integrity of so many, including the Japanese staff, local associates, and people of Belgium.

Note: Honda's employees are also referred as to "associates."

 

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