"Our company is successful only because of the involvement, expertise and passion of each associate to build the best products for our customers," declares Hidenobu Iwata, president and CEO of Honda of America Manufacturing Inc.

It's a common refrain among manufacturing managers at the automaker's operations in Marysville, Ohio, where Honda Motor Co. (IW 1000/23) in 1982 became the first Japanese transplant to produce vehicles in North America.

"If you think about how complex it is to manufacture a vehicle from start to finish, and how many things potentially could go wrong, it is incredible how through the entire process we're able to do it as well as we do on a consistent basis," says Jeff Tomko, plant manager at Honda Marysville. "And that's not luck. That's a concerted effort by the entire team to do it right and understand how we need to continue to improve."

Indeed, Honda's approach to making vehicles -- and its approach to managing its people -- isn't a product of luck.

The Honda Way, Iwata emphasizes, is built on Honda's core principles: respect for the individual, and "the three joys" (the joys of buying, selling and creating Honda's products, respectively).

Honda of America Manufacturing CEO Hidenobu Iwata
Hide Iwata (left), president and CEO of Honda of American Manufacturing, talks with workers at the Marysville Auto Plant. At Honda, associates of all levels "come together as equals" to solve problems, Iwata says.

While such lofty, almost fanciful concepts seem like the stuff of mission statements and banners collecting dust in dark corners of factory rafters, a visit to Honda's operations in central Ohio reveals just how embedded they are in the automaker's manufacturing process.

It's evident as soon as you walk in the front door of the Marysville Auto Plant, where all 4,400 associates wear white uniforms -- just as they do at Honda's other facilities around the world.

That applies to everyone, emphasizes Ron Lietzke, assistant manager of media relations and corporate affairs for Honda of America Manufacturing, "whether you're the president, or in support like I am, or in the factory -- on the line or not on the line."

The white uniform, Lietzke explains, is a means of leveling the playing field, so to speak, in the spirit of continuous improvement.

"When there is a production problem, or an initiative to implement a new production method, many teams come together to work on the project as equals," Iwata adds.

They come together on the factory floor, and in other settings such as Y-gaya meetings, which are designed to encourage participants to voice their opinions regardless of rank or position.

John Spoltman, chief engineer and plant manager at Honda's Anna Engine Plant -- about 45 miles west of Marysville -- says he holds almost-weekly Y-gaya meetings to address important questions, issues and concerns.

Participants are instructed to leave their titles at the door.

"And you just discuss and work through an issue, and no one leads or tries to steer the meeting in one direction because of their title," Spoltman says. "So it's a free-thinking discussion."

In his interactions with other associates, Spoltman emphasizes that "everybody has the same and equal voice."

"There are no assigned parking spots and no individual offices," Spoltman says. "Everyone eats in the same cafeteria. There's no assigned seating anywhere."