When Naoki “Nick” Sugimoto arrived in Berkeley in the mid-1990s from Japan, he had few English skills. But what he did have was inquisitiveness and drive.
That curiosity has served Sugimoto well, inspiring creative action throughout his career and especially now that he’s serving as CEO of Honda Innovations (Honda R&D Innovations, Inc.), a new business launched in April. Its focus is on cultivating partnerships between Honda and technology startups and integrating their ideas into Honda’s products—like a 3-D car display or an optical microphone that can better differentiate a speaker’s voice from background noise, even in challenging environments.
“Our goal is to encourage open collaboration, and this new venture gives us the opportunity to learn from world-class innovators,” Sugimoto says.
The combination of Sugimoto’s undergraduate automotive engineering training, his Haas degree, and his bilingual capability attracted Honda, which recruited him in 2005 as a venture capitalist. Six years later, he became program director for Honda Silicon Valley Lab, the precursor to Honda Innovations.
There, Sugimoto has made good use of a key skill he learned at Haas: building strong work relationships in an American setting.
“In Japan I didn’t have much opportunity to encounter a diverse, international business environment,” he says. “I definitely got that at Haas. What I learned in my classes was important, but the networking skills I gained were even more so.”
As his career continues to thrive, Sugimoto is mindful to always go beyond himself and think long term, advice his father taught him.
“My dad used to tell me, ‘It’s your life, you figure it out,’” he says. “‘Don’t limit yourself. Push as far as you can.’” —KMY
CEO, Honda Innovations
Mountain View, Calif.