Crossing Boundaries to International Production
Belgium Honda celebrated its first anniversary with a factory opening ceremony on September 5, 1963, when Honda Motor was about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. The following day, with the help of local officials, a grand gala was held in an 18th century castle rented for the event. The party was attended by many, including officials from the Belgian government and officials from Aalst. Soichiro Honda, the president and founder of Honda, also flew in from Japan.
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.)
"Honda swept the Isle of Man TT Race, and now the company's boss is coming to Belgium," the locals said of Mr. Honda's visit. In the sky was a light airplane slowly circling with a streaming banner carrying the message "Welcome, Mr. Honda!"
Europe was at the time a heavily class-conscious society in which there was great distinction made between management and factory workers. It was simply a matter of course that there was a clear difference in status between white-collar staff and blue-color workers. Thus, it was unthinkable for the president of any company, no matter how big or small, to speak directly with his associates or even shake their hands. Therefore, when Soichiro Honda addressed the local associates in the opening ceremony he said, "Let's have fun working together as one." He even approached a circle of associates saying, "Let's have our picture taken together."
The locals were not only happy to be greeted that way, but were truly astonished at the company president's forward manner. It helped set the tone for the gathering, and everything went smoothly from that point on.
The local community was generally very friendly toward the Japanese associates at Belgium Honda. They delighted in having the company of Japanese people, who were then very rare in the region. Moreover, the families of the Japanese were always being invited to parties as part of an effort by the local people to engender their friendship.
There were those, however, who frowned upon Belgium Honda's participation in the regional market.
The use of mopeds in Belgium and the Netherlands was comparatively high with respect to the other EEC nations. Therefore, Honda was perceived as a threat in certain ways, having demonstrated world-class performance in the Motorcycle World Grand Prix and the Isle of Man TT Race.
"There was initially a period in which we couldn't get as many applicants as we wanted," said Iwamura, "despite the ads we'd placed in the newspapers. But the local papers were running such reports as, The General Motors of Japan arrives, rampaging through the market," and Honda invades the market." So, we decided to run an ad pushing our concept into the spotlight, saying something like, We're launching our activities for the development of the Belgian motorcycle industry. We'd like to see our products used not only in Belgium, but in other countries as well." And that was the turning point. It helped clear up any misunderstandings among the local people, and the number of job applicants grew dramatically."