President & CEO
Honda Aircraft Company, Inc.
Over the past 20 years, Michimasa Fujino has been involved in the design and development of aircraft and has participated in several aircraft projects within the Honda organization. He has developed theoretical techniques for the aerodynamic and aeroelastic design of the HondaJet, and in addition, conducted wind-tunnel and flight tests at research facilities around the world. Fujino was responsible for the development of the over-the-wing engine-mount configuration, the high-speed NLF airfoil, the NLF fuselage nose, and the all-composite fuselage structure of the HondaJet.
He became president & CEO of Honda Aircraft Company in October 2006.
Prior to leading the formation of Honda Aircraft Company, Fujino was a vice president with Honda R&D Americas, Inc., and the Large Project Leader for the HondaJet program based in Greensboro, North Carolina, U.S. In this capacity, he led all engineering tasks from design through experimental verification, fabrication and flight testing of the HondaJet.
ET: There were two decades of development put into the idea of the HondaJet. What’s happening right now in the market that prompted Honda to get involved?
Michimasa Fujino: The reason why Honda took a lot of time before we entered the business jet market is that we wanted to be very sure that we were producing the best product in the industry. And “the best” means not only performance, but also comfort, quality and efficiency. So right now is perfect timing for Honda to get into the industry. There are many good business jets available now, but some people may not necessarily be completely satisfied with their customer service or the product itself. There is an expectation by some that Honda will change that, the way Honda Motors did in the automobile industry.
ET: Do you see parallels between the Honda Aircraft Company and Honda Motor Company in terms of what consumers can expect?
Michimasa Fujino: Honda has a very good reputation for quality and performance at a very affordable price. This kind of common quality is consistent for all the products from Honda— motorcycles, automobiles, and power equipment—the best quality in that price range. If you look at small automobiles, the Civic is the leader in its market. For HondaJet, our plans are similar. We are providing the best airplane in the light jet category. That is our target. This is very consistent with other Honda products.
ET: I know you’re also planning a “dealership” type sales distribution plan. What are the advantages to reinventing the way you sell airplanes?
Michimasa Fujino: For a dealership to succeed you need to sell a very good product, first of all. But more importantly, service and customer support are the critical roles of a dealership. For business aviation, customer support is absolutely critical, Honda has an excellent dealership reputation in the automobile industry; the dealership is responsible not only for sales but also for customer service and support. Customers see the same faces and the same people whenever they go in. That creates trust between the local dealer and the customers—it’s very important. I am a believer in close, personal heartfelt business relationships. When I was young I sold automobiles myself, and my first job was selling Honda trucks. When I delivered the first truck I sold to the farmer who bought it, I could see how happy he was. And when I handed him the keys, he brought out something wrapped in a newspaper. And when I opened it, there was $10,000 in cash. And he said, “Please count it.” So 100, 200, 300 and so on. But that kind of personal transaction is very important and reminds me of the origins of Honda’s business. Of course, I don’t expect $4 million in cash wrapped in newspaper from my HondaJet customers. But that is the kind of joyful “opening scene” I want to create with our customers. I want to provide a very professional service, but also offer a more intimate relationship to our customer. Our jet dealerships will be exclusive, just like Honda automotive dealers.
ET: You spoke a little bit about your history with Honda Motor. I know you also studied aeronautics. Was eventually working in aviation a passion of yours? Is that something you always wanted to do?
Michimasa Fujino: My interest, my motivation is from my childhood. I love airplanes. And when I was a child I lived in a fourth floor apartment, I made many kinds of paper airplanes that I threw from the fourth floor window. And if I designed a good paper airplane, it flew more than five or six minutes. So I tried to find out what made my designs fly longer. That’s why I decided to major in aerospace studies at Tokyo University. When I graduated, the aerospace industry was very limited in Japan. I wanted to make something by myself from concept to fabrication to manufacturing to sales. Only the automotive industry offered that kind of challenge. To me Honda was the most dynamic company, and it was Honda who offered me more authority as a young engineer, so I joined them.
ET: Do you have some favorite places that you like to travel to for vacations with your family?
Michimasa Fujino: I travel extensively all over the world. But there is one place I always wanted to visit that I have never been to. When I was 15 years old, I put up a calendar in my room. And I still remember that the picture for August, was Mykonos in Greece. That deep blue Aegean , the pure white buildings, I can still remember that picture. Until I saw that I never even thought of going to a foreign country. I was a Japanese country boy, it never crossed my mind. Maybe getting to go there is good motivation to work hard and complete this job.
ET: Aside from this passion for travel and for aviation, do you have other hobbies that you like to do outside of work?
Michimasa Fujino: I have many hobbies. I play tennis and golf. And also I like art, so I love to go to the museums in Paris and London. But I’m quite busy with the HondaJet program, so it’s very hard to find time.
ET: There have been other business jet companies who announce a single product offering and often times they disappear after a while. What is HondaJet planning for the future to ensure its involvement is ongoing?
Michimasa Fujino: I see many entrepreneurs starting new businesses in aviation, and I really respect their challenging spirit. But, when I take a look at those people, they start a business from a concept and immediately go into the sales cycle. In my book they skip a step or two. To be successful we have to not only be bold and challenging and entrepreneurial but also make a careful study for a solid business case. These businesses don’t fail just because they only offer a single product. Before we introduced the HondaJet we conducted extensive experiments and technical tests. Before we announced HondaJet, we validated our technology. Our investment is not based upon selling 2,000 aircraft right off the bat. It’s more reasonable. Our production rate is dictated by the market; it’s a more reasonable or a more realistic number that can be achieved by very efficient assembly processes and production technology.
That said, I know that few companies can survive with only one product. If Honda only produced the Civic, it probably wouldn’t be a $100 billion company now. So once we fully establish Honda Aircraft Company, my dream is to, of course, grow it into a leading jet company, the way Honda Motor became preeminent in the automotive industry. It is my personal dream.
ET: With everything that’s going on in the economy right now, are you seeing any impact yet on your business?
Michimasa Fujino: I experienced a similar downturn in Japan more than ten years ago. Big banks went out of business. But, fortunately, we’ve had no cancellation and are seeing steady market growth right now. So maybe this is all fallout of “true demand.” If you look at the stock market or the housing market, sometimes it’s more appreciated than it should be. We call it a bubble. But if there is a true demand for a product, there will be a good market even after an economic downturn.
ET: What are your hopes for the HondaJet brand?
Michimasa Fujino: I want the HondaJet to be a very trusted product. I want HondaJet to be a strong brand in the business jet market as well as a strong general brand. I really want many people to use HondaJet, people who didn’t think they would ever experience private jet travel. I want HondaJet to be not only a productivity tool, but also a unique ownership experience. So many luxury products are not just tools; they also carry a sense of pride of ownership. A simple quartz watch may give you the time, but you may want to have a Patek Phillipe that you will own for a long time or maybe pass on to the next generation. I want HondaJet to be like that.