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Honda makes English official language for global talks

Bloomberg

Honda Motor Co. made English the official language for global meetings as the carmaker shifts decision-making power to regional units.

Chief Executive Officer Takanobu Ito informed global employees of the change in April, John Mendel, executive vice president of the Tokyo-based company’s U.S. sales unit, said in an interview at the Los Angeles Auto Show. Mendel was promoted to Honda’s North American management committee in 2012, in an earlier move by Ito to localize business decisions.

The carmaker’s move follows language conversions by other Japanese companies, including Fast Retailing Co., Asia’s biggest apparel seller, and Rakuten Inc., Japan’s biggest Internet mall. Honda’s new rule applies to in-person meetings and video conferences, raising the chances that top executives will use interpreters, as Fast Retailing President Tadashi Yanai and Ito himself have done in media interviews.

“Imagine the shock sent through the operation,” Mendel said in an interview Thursday. “The CEO stands up and says, ‘All discussions about global operations will be conducted in English and oh, by the way, if you don’t understand it, get an interpreter.’”

Rakuten announced its shift to English as the company’s official language in 2010 and phased it in over two years. The online retailer’s billionaire President Hiroshi Mikitani, Japan’s third-richest person, earned an MBA at Harvard Business School in 1993.

Yanai adopted English as Fast Retailing’s official language last year, while Tokyo-based tire maker Bridgestone Corp. said last month it will phase in the English requirement.