From Solo Player to Team Enthusiast, Lynn Dennison '93 Has Broadened Her Horizons at Honda
A recognizable name from the professional women’s golf circuit, Lynn Dennison grew up in Marion, Ohio. Always interested in sports, she found some old clubs and started hitting balls in the backyard. “It was something you could work on by yourself, in a small town” she muses, “no need to join a club or be on a team.”
Her skills earned her a scholarship to Indiana University, where she says playing golf was often “like a job.” For the first eight weeks of the semester, she was gone half of all weekdays and all weekends. “It was not your typical college experience,” she says, “but it was a tremendous privilege. I got a lot out of it. I learned to manage a demanding athletic and academic schedule. Law school was actually easier.”
Lynn came to OSU after a back injury slowed her professional golfing career. She didn’t know much about the law when she enrolled, and would become the first lawyer in her family.
Lynn took civil rights and evidence courses from Professor Barbara Sndyer, now OSU executive vice president and provost, and calls her “quite an impressive professor and person.” She elaborates: “You immediately knew how capable she was, yet she was always approachable. Her level of preparation gave you a sense of what would be required in the future to be a top-notch lawyer. She set a high standard.”
Lynn embraced those high standards for herself. After graduation, she started at the Chicago office of Foley & Lardner, and soon moved to their main office in Milwaukee. After a couple of years, she began thinking about moving closer to home, to a firm in Columbus.
Lynn with previous president and CEO Koki Hirashima, who now leads Honda's global manufacturing operations
Instead, she was recruited by Honda of America.
Honda encourages its attorneys to get involved in business operations and to get to know Honda’s customers, so they can apply practical solutions to legal problems they face in their work. “You learn about the business if you are doing your legal job correctly here,” she asserts.
Her hard work and willingness to learn resulted in her being asked to lead business units that handle internal communications, and media and government relations. She sees these additional duties as a “natural expansion” upon her role as Assistant Vice President and General Counsel. She also oversees compliance, ethics, and diversity-related responsibilities.
Honda has a high profile in Ohio, employing more than 15,000 associates at five manufacturing plants, a major research center and related operations. “Nearly every manner of legal practice impacts the company—commercial, customs, immigration, employment, environmental, tax, workers' compensation issues,” Lynn explains. “We are a prominent employer, and therefore the media is very interested in what we do. Also, we have built relationships with various government agencies with respect to the regulation and legislation that affects our business.”
Beyond encouraging employees to learn the business beyond their singular roles, Honda is driven by a fundamental philosophy: respect for the individual.
Egalitarianism is paramount, she explains, and the company revolves around a “one-team” concept. “If you have something to say, you have an obligation to speak up from your base of experience,” Lynn says. The compulsory teamwork and consensus-based decision making can be challenging at times, but she has found true value in the process, and credits it for allowing her to make significant contributions.
Lynn working with Senior Manager of Media Relations Ed Miller, wearing the ubiquitous white jumpsuit
The philosophy trickles down through every aspect of corporate life at Honda. On site, all associates wear a standard-issue white uniform--from those who work on the assembly line to the CEO, who works in an open office and requires no appointments to be seen by colleagues. “The white uniform has a purpose as a diagnostic tool on the production floor: if it’s dirty, something’s wrong. At the same time, it’s a manifestation of the one-team concept,” she explains.
Honda is very much an engineering company, and Lynn says that learning its particular language has been challenging. She has had to translate her world--a legal world, conceptual and words-oriented--to a world that focuses on data, process management, and process improvement. “It’s very different from what you’d see in a law firm,” she notes, “and I’ve benefited tremendously from watching and learning about the way Honda manages its business, and from participating as a member of the executive management team.”
The accessible nature of the culture allows many different kinds of people the opportunity for high levels of engagement and involvement, which Lynn sees as Honda’s primary competitive advantage. “Formal professional qualifications are not the only consideration in assigning people into certain roles,” she notes. “People move around in ways you might not see in another company.”
In spite of a demanding career, Lynn is very involved in community activities. She is a board member of the Ohioana Library Association and the YWCA, and serves on the executive committee of the board of the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association. She also serves on the board of the Japan-America Society of Central Ohio (JASCO). JASCO, which originated in the department of Japanese studies at OSU, facilitates understanding between the two countries, acting as a resource for businesses that deal with Japanese companies and for local Japanese-owned small businesses.
She finds her work with the YWCA Board especially gratifying. She calls her board service “a great learning opportunity for women who want to be involved and network with other remarkable women from all backgrounds.” She asserts, “there is a good exchange between members with a multitude of perspectives, but we are committed to the mission--the empowerment of women and the elimination of racism--which allows us to get a lot of things done.”
“I think community involvement exposes you to people who don’t do what you do everyday. It makes you a better lawyer, better in your profession. You learn how to work with other people,” she says.
Collaboration is a theme that carries through both her work at Honda and in her commitment to community. Before, the theme was individuality. She played an ‘individual’ sport, and legal work, she says, is “individual and focused.” Now she says her experience at Honda has “cultivated a new viewpoint.” “Being at Honda has reinforced the fact that there are lots of capable people who think differently, and have different perspectives, which are critical to get into your thinking--it makes the end product better and stronger.” Her advice to young attorneys? “The world is so big,” she says, “and the law serves many important functions, but getting a sense of multiple perspectives is a big part of being a good counselor.”
Classmates and friends wishing to get in touch with Lynn can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.