The slate of new directors named to Honda's board includes one Hideko Kunii, a gender-equality advocate and engineering professor from the Shibaura Institute of Technology. A graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Kunii spent the bulk of her career at Japanese electronic imaging company Ricoh. Alongside Kunii, Honda has also named Tomoko Mizoguchi to the board as responsible for the company's South American operations, making him the first foreigner to serve on the company's board of directors. (Well, almost: Mizoguchi was born in Brazil, but of Japanese ancestry.)
The appointments follow the recent switch Honda made in its official language policy from Japanese to English, signaling a shift in outlook for a company that has long stuck to traditional Japanese business models. Honda was the first of the major Japanese automakers to begin manufacturing in the United States, and has long relied on hiring local managers to run its regional operations around the world. It has, however, resisted placing foreigners on its board of directors until now, relying instead on senior male managers promoted from within its ranks to serve on its board. This in comparison to Toyota, which has seven foreigners and one woman on its 68-member board of directors, and Nissan, which has fifteen foreigners (including its chief executive) and one woman on its 58-member board.