Honda Motor Co. Ltd. (TYO:7267) has taken a queue from other global multinationals by adopting English as its official language worldwide.

Speaking at the L.A. Auto Show this week, the head of Honda U.S. sales told Bloomberg that the company’s CEO, Takanobu Ito, quietly made the switch in April. All interviews, meetings and internal video conferences will be conducted in English, and Honda executives not already schooled in the language will need to use interpreters.  

Honda is a relative late-comer to that party. Japan’s Nissan Motor Co. Ltd. (TYO:7201) and its sister French company Renault AG have been using English as their official language for years. Other notables that use English as their common corporate language include France-based aerospace giant Airbus, German auto giant Daimler AG (FRA:DAI), Finland’s telecom major Nokia Corp. (NYSE:NOK) and South Korean consumer gadget manufacturer Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. (KRX:005935). In Denmark, dozens of multinational companies, including shipping giant A.P. Moller - Maersk Group (CPH:MAERSK-A) and dairy concern Arla Foods, have embraced English.

  • Honda Nov 2013 2
    Tetsuo Iwamura, president and CEO of American Honda Motor Co. introduces the Honda FCEV Concept car during the 2013 Los Angeles Auto Show in Los Angeles, California November 20, 2013. Photo: Reuters
  • Takanobu Ito
    Honda Motor Co's President and Chief Executive Officer Takanobu Ito poses next to the company's new SUV "Vezel" during a presentation at the 43rd Tokyo Motor Show in Tokyo November 20, 2013. Earlier this year Ito declared English Honda's official corporate language and told non-English-speaking Honda executives to make sure they have interpreters on hand when they participate in interviews and meetings. Photo: Reuters

Adopting a common language for large multinationals is a way to avoid the pitfalls of holding meetings in person or by teleconference and learning, when it’s too late, that negotiating sides are unable to close a deal because the conference room has become a Tower of Babel. Tsedal Neeley, assistant professor in the Organizational Behavior unit at Harvard Business School, said she witnessed this at a French company she once worked for.

“Sitting together in Paris, employees of those two French companies couldn’t close a deal because the people in the room couldn’t communicate,” Neeley wrote in an article on the topic last year for Harvard Business Review. “It was a shocking wake-up call, and the company soon adopted an English corporate language strategy.” 

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