Nissan's Chief Performance Officer Trevor Mann has been awarded an Honorary Freedom of Sunderland.
He received the honour on Friday in front of more than 140 guests at a special meeting of the City Council.
Mr Mann was nominated for the freedom in recognition of the example of achievement he has set to the city’s young people, and his personal contribution to the economic well-being of the city and people of Sunderland.
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The Nissan plant now employs more than 7,000 and, since first starting work there in 1985, Mr Mann has helped oversee many of its production and manufacturing milestones.
He said: "There is a spirit and enthusiasm that makes Sunderland a very special place. This approach to life was one of the key reasons why Nissan first decided to locate in North East England.
"I am therefore honoured to be granted the Freedom of the City of Sunderland today and accept it with a huge amount of pride.
"I would like to pay tribute to all my colleagues, the City Council and our many UK partners for the support they have given Nissan over the past three decades. They have all played a role in creating a new international automotive centre, here in North East England."
Last year Nissan made more than 500,000 vehicles in Sunderland, where more than 7.5 million vehicles have been manufactured since the plant first opened.
Councillor Paul Watson, Leader of Sunderland City Council, said: "We have recognised Trevor and the outstanding contributions he has made to the well-being, the community and the spirit of the city.
"In recognising Trevor, we are celebrating the story and achievements of Nissan in the city as his qualities and competence have been recognised beyond the industry.
"He has led on many a historic motoring moment, and has been instrumental in the creation of thousands of jobs, not only directly but in its supply chain and the service industries also.
"The freedom formally seals the relationships between Mr Mann and the City of Sunderland and recognises his contribution to the well being and community spirit of the city. He is a great example to us all."
Mr Mann was awarded a CBE in the Queen's 2012 New Year's Honours List for his Services to Business in North East England.
Among the guests were the Lord-Lieutenant of Tyne and Wear, Nigel Sherlock, OBE. He is Her Majesty’s representative in Tyne and Wear.
Mr Sherlock said: "I am delighted the Freedom of the City of Sunderland has been bestowed upon Trevor, who has made a unique contribution not just to Sunderland, but to the whole of Tyne and Wear and the wider North-East region, by promoting and leading the success of the Nissan team."
The ceremony in the chamber was only the sixth time that individuals have been conferred with freedoms since Sunderland gained city status 22 years ago.
In November last year freedoms were granted to Joel Batteux, Mayor of Sunderland's twin-town Saint Nazaire, and to Niall Quinn MBE.
Other freedoms of Sunderland include television reporter Kate Adie, 4 Regiment Royal Artillery, 3 Rifles and the crew of HMS Ocean, Sunderland's adopted warship and the Royal Navy's largest.