MARYSVILLE — He was one of the first 64 associates hired by Honda when the Marysville Honda Plant was being constructed. Today, Neil Vining shares his experience with new Honda associates.
“Mr. (Soichiro) Honda had a big dream.” said Vining. “He wanted be the first Japanese automaker to build cares in the United States.”
In 1977, construction began on the first Honda facility — a motorcycle plant located in Marysville.
“Gov. (James) Rhodes flew to Japan,” said Vining, to discuss the plan and bring Honda to Ohio.
“In 1979, on Sept. 10, the first motorcycle came off the line in Marysville,” said Vining. “I am one of the original 64 associates.”
Vining was one of the Honda associates in Marysville, to visit Japan to learn the manufacturing process Mr. Honda believed in.
“We learned the process … to achieve the quality process and to achieve the volume process.
“Honda was building their plant in the middle of Ohio and they weren’t sure American workers could achieve the level of quality of Japanese associates,” said Vining. “We took the challenge and opportunity to be the first with a quality level and production level that surprised the Japanese associates. We had a challenging spirit and passion for the job.
“Honda wanted us to understand the Japanese culture and work next to their people,” said Vining of his training in Japan. “We would then have a better understanding of Mr. Honda’s philosophy and his respect for the individual worker.”
During his training in Japan, Vining and other Americans shared ideas with the Japanese associates.
“The Japanese culture and Honda policies were meeting the American cultures. They were surprised with the ideas we were sharing with them.”
When he returned to Ohio, he helped teach the Honda Way to his fellow associates.
“The Honda Way blends the cultures and is its own unique culture,” he said. “It has proven to be very successful.”
The media, said Vining, quested whether American workers could compete with their Japanese associates.
“For 40 years we’ve been making automobiles, trucks, airplanes, side-by-sides, generators and lawn mowers,” said Vining. “Americans have a challenging spirit.”
The core values at Honda, said Vining, includes the joy or creating a product. The joy of selling the product. The joy of purchasing the item or customer satisfaction.
“Blending into the Honda Way is an understanding of Mr. Honda’s principles. You want to help people. You are working for a cause that is bigger than yourself.”
When the first motorcycle rolled off the assembly line on Sept. 10, 1979, a short fax was sent from Marysville to Japan: Start building an auto plant.
And that’s exactly what happened next to the motorcycle plant in Marysville.
“It was an exciting time,” said Vining. “I got to work with the design work. I went to Japan to learn the auto manufacturing business.”
When Vining first interviewed with Honda, he knew in his mind the opportunity to work at Honda would change his life.
“I was interviewed while the (motorcycle) plant was building built,” said Vining. “They had already hired the managers and the core sections for the plant. “
During the interview, six or seven people were posing questions to Vining. That was the first of three interviews he went through before being hired.
“At the end of the first interview, they asked me if I had any questions. So I asked them to explain a couple of the questions that I didn’t understand. As I was leaving the HR (human resources) manager said he liked that style of question. I think that little edge made the difference.”
Vining said he grew up 20 miles from the property where the plants were built.
“I grew up on a small farm,” he said. “Honda liked the rural farm community and they liked the background of the people living there.”
Building in rural America, he said, has been successful for Honda.
The change in technology has been “phenomenal,” said Vining.
“The next generation of Honda workers grew up with technology. They can develop products at a rate of speed that you can’t imagine.”
As Honda enters its next 40 years in Ohio, the company is entering the next phase of its production.
“Honda will lead the way to be a carbon-free society,” said Vining. “We’ll be a collision-free society. There will be bigger challenges for the next generation of associates.”
One of Vining’s best work experiences was the time a small group of associates got to meet Mr. Honda.
“He told us we could accomplish anything,” said Vining. “The only thing limiting you is you.”
Vining knew when he was hired by Honda that he could work there his entire career and not be limited of where he could go within the company. He started as an associate with the motorcycle plant. He then moved the the automobile plant and was a coordinator. He was also a model manager, new model leader and chief engineer at the auto plant.
“I’ve worked on planning systems for sales, production and control at the auto plant,” said Vining. “You always have the chance to grow and learn. That’s the exciting part of Honda for me.”
After the auto plant’s success, the next step for Honda was to open its own transmission plant. That plant opened in Anna.
“We know all the parts there (Anna Engine Plant),” said Vining. “That goes back to the Honda philosophy. We want to build the product where it’s sold. We utilize core values in our business model.
“I never dreamed we (Honda) would build planes in the United States,” he said. “I’ve hand a phenomenal career. I’m one of many people in Ohio grateful for that.”
There are 600 United States companies who are suppliers for Honda of America. From the original 64 associates, the company has grown to 15,000 Honda associates in Ohio. Nearly 20 million vehicles have been made at Honda’s Ohio manufacturing plants.
“Honda has an exciting future,” said Vining. “There will be lots of challenges as well.”