Honda has for the first time appointed a woman to its board and given a major promotion to a foreigner in a sign that the automaker wants to change perceptions of a hidebound corporate culture.
Technology expert Hideko Kunii, 66, will join the board, and Issao Mizoguchi, a Brazilian of Japanese ancestry, who has worked with Honda’s South American operations for nearly 30 years, has been appointed operating officer, Honda Motor Co said yesterday.
The appointments need shareholder approval at a meeting set for June.
Companies have come under fire within Japan for not promoting anyone other than Japanese men.
Putting women in leadership positions is a pillar of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s policies to revive the moribund Japanese economy.
Toyota has a foreigner on its board, Mark Hogan, an American, formerly of General Motors Co, but has yet to tap a woman, and said it is not necessarily looking to promote a woman.
Honda has cultivated an international image from its early years, as founder Soichiro Honda always had global acceptance as part of his vision for the company.
It was the first Japanese automaker to open a vehicle assembly plant in the US.
However, the addition of Mizoguchi, 54, as one of the top executives at headquarters, as well as the appointment of Kunii, a professor at the Shibaura Institute of Technology, is a high-profile move for the company.
Kunii studied at San Jose University and the University of Texas at Austin, and previously worked for Japanese electronics maker Ricoh Co.
Mizoguchi now serves as senior vice president and director of Honda South America.
Honda officials stressed Kunii was picked because she was the right person for the job, not because of her gender.
Among Japanese companies, Nissan Motor Co, allied with Renault SA of France, has been the most progressive in promoting diversity. Still, it has yet to appoint a woman to its board.
Asako Hoshino, a woman and management expert, is among the top Nissan executives, serving as corporate vice president.
Nissan has three non-Japanese on its 12-member board, including chief executive Carlos Ghosn.