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.
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.”