This success story is about the biography of Soichiro Honda. It was the man who changed the usual view on traditions of running a business not only in his country but also in almost every country around the world. Enjoy reading the story about inventions, trials, failures, and successes.
Soichiro Honda (本田 宗一郎, November 17, 1906 – August 5, 1991) is a Japanese entrepreneur and inventor engaged in the development and industrial production of mopeds, motorcycles and cars. He founded the Honda Motor Co., Inc. corporation and automobile companies in the U.S. and Japan. Soichiro Honda is the creator of the popular models of motorcycles and cars: Super Cub, Civic, Accord, Prelude, etc. He is the owner of multibillion-dollar status.
Perhaps finding someone who has not heard about Honda Motor Company would not be easy. This is not surprising because people from more than 140 countries worldwide buy its bikes, cars, boat motors, mini-tractors, autonomous power stations, tillers for farmers, and other mechanisms equipped with gasoline engines.
Back in 1956, the company presented to the staff job descriptions with “The Three Joys” they had to learn.
The first of them is the joy of producing. It is a joy known only to the engineer. It is an absolute happiness of the engineers when the good is of excellent quality and is welcomed by society. The second joy is when a seller is happy because a buyer has a Honda product. The third joy belongs to the buyer. The buyer is so pleased that they buy a Honda product.
Honda Company is a unique example of a corporation that successfully works on the markets on five continents; it is a member of prestigious sporting events; it is the Company investing in the development of high-tech projects and working to improve the environmental performance of manufactured products radically. The potential of Honda engineers is entirely consistent with the professional level of sales managers worldwide. Such a tandem has been ensuring the company’s success for many years and gives confidence to be as successful in the future.
Soichiro Honda, the founder of the Honda Company, was born on November 17, 1906, in Hamamatsu, Shizuoka in Japan. His mother, Mika, was a weaver and even designed her own loom to weave particularly complex patterns. His father, Gihei, was a blacksmith who ran a bicycle repair business. Bicycles became extremely popular in big cities in those years. His father bought broken bikes for a knockdown price in Tokyo, repairing and selling them to all comers. Soichiro was helping his father literally from the cradle, and the bicycle parts were his favorite toys.
Helping his father in the smithy, he always got dirty with soot, but he was very ingenious. At the end of the quarter at school, all students were handed grade reports, which parents had to stamp with the family seal instead of putting signatures. Soichiro was not an excellent student but did not want to disappoint his parents. So he cut family hieroglyphs on an old tire and “signed” a grade report himself. Soichiro did not realize that the stamp had to be mirror-imaged. He started to make fake stamps for other classmates. His family name is 本田, and it was symmetrical when written vertically, so it did not cause a problem, but some of the other children’s family names were not symmetrical. When the teacher noticed that, he said with a smile that some hieroglyphs were not mirror-imaged. Soichiro Honda’s father left him without lunch and put him in a corner on his knees for a whole day, and he did that not for the forgery but because Soichiro did not notice the relation between the seal pattern and the stamp itself.
In 1922, after finishing eight years of schooling, Soichiro noticed a job ad in a newspaper: an assistant wanted to Art Shokai auto repair shop in Tokyo. After that, he went straight to the capital of Japan. He was accepted but left only cleaning and preparing meals as the youngest employee. Despite this, the owner of the auto repair shop allowed Soichiro to help in the second workshop, where he was designing a racing car every night. During the earthquake in 1923, Soichiro drove out three vehicles from a burning garage, but he had never sat behind the wheel. Honda was assigned as an assistant at Art Shokai; he helped the workshop’s proprietors, the Sakakibara brothers, design a Curtiss race car. Soichiro was a riding mechanic at races, and their team took first place at the fifth Japan Motor Car Championship on November 23, 1924.
There were a lot of other victories behind this success. Art Shokai workshop became one of the most popular garages in Tokyo, and five years after the earthquake, Yuzo Sakakibara expanded his business by opening several branches in the province. One of them was led by 21-year-old Soichiro in the town of Hamamatsu. Since that memorable earthquake in Tokyo, Honda decided to create durable spare parts for vehicles. Soichiro Honda proposed to replace the wooden spokes on the wheels with metal ones and even received a patent for his invention. Art Shokai was very prosperous and brought considerable revenue. But it was not enough for Honda. He tried to produce piston rings, investing almost all his savings in the research laboratory. But none of the directors of Art Shokai supported him.
Soichiro lived in the workshop, developing piston rings. But it didn’t give any fruit. Honda even handed over the jewels of his wife to the pawn shop. Only after that did he admit his incompetence in the foundry business and change his attitude toward education. Up to that time, Honda had considered science useless. “If the theory promoted creativity, then all teachers would have been the inventors,” Honda said. Now, he has decided to acquire the necessary knowledge in the technological school of Hamamatsu. In all his spare time, Honda devoted himself to racing car design. Having developed his own engine cooling method, he resolved the main problem of all sports cars of that time. His engine did not explode from overheating during a race. Soichiro decided to take part in major competitions to experience his masterpiece.
In 1936, Honda took part in the Japanese high-speed rally in Tama River in the suburbs of Tokyo and almost died. His car raced at breakneck speed of 120 km/h. Honda crashed into a suddenly stopped car at the finish. The car turned over thrice in the air, and the champion was thrown out of it. The car was lost forever. Honda’s left arm was fractured, his shoulder was dislocated, and his face was damaged. He spent three months at a hospital. The road to the sport was closed forever for him.
While at the hospital, Soichiro received terrible news. Out of 30,000 piston rings he produced in recent years and sent for examination to the Toyota Company, only 50 were accepted for consideration, and only three pieces passed quality control tests. In addition, Honda dropped out of college because he refused to take the examination: Soichiro needed knowledge but not a diploma.
Any other man, perhaps, would give up in such a situation. But after recovering, Honda opened his own business in Hamamatsu. In 1937, Honda founded the company Tokai Seiki and started producing piston rings, the production technology of which had finally been found. Things went uphill.
During the Sino-Japanese War and then World War II, Honda’s company provided ‘Toyota’ with piston rings by 40% and also supplied parts to shipbuilding and aircraft manufacturing companies. But with the defeat of Japan in World War II, “Tokay Seiko” ended. In 1945, Hamamatsu underwent a massive bombardment by American aircraft. Honda assumed that the country was entering a period of poverty and ruin and decided not to restore the factory but sold the business to Toyota for 450,000 thousand yen. 10,000 yen the businessman spent on the purchase of an alcohol tank. By installing it in his yard, he said publicly that he would rest for a year. Indeed, Soichiro spent a year in drunken revels, treating friends with homemade whiskey.
First Mopeds Production
In 1946, Honda opened his factory with a grandiloquent name, Honda Technology Research Institute, and became engaged in the artisanal production of mopeds. He fitted a tiny army radio generator engine to a bicycle, used a rubber hot water bottle as a fuel tank, and filled it with fir oil. There was plenty of fir oil in the countryside of Japan in those times. Honda sold 1,500 one thousand five hundred of these mopeds, nicknamed ‘choo-choo’ for their sound. Then, Honda replaced the engine with a two-stroke engine of his design. It was the first original Honda A-Type product moped by a tenacious businessman and was developed in 1947. After two years, the ‘Institute’ became the Honda Motor Company.
In 1949, the first motorcycle model with a two-stroke engine was called The Dream. Two years later, Honda started the production of a model with a four-stroke engine. By 1958, when his “Super Cub” model came to the U.S., Honda was already the most prominent Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles, leaving behind not only 50 Japanese competitors but also 200 competitors from other countries.
Funny Incident & Rapid Growth
As soon as Honda Motor began producing motorcycles, foreign companies became interested in Honda’s production. Their representatives came to Japan to sign contracts with Honda.
Once, a funny story happened with one of the foreign partners and was included in all the biographies of Soichiro Honda. Once, Honda overdid when treating a regular guest with sake. The guest felt very bad, and during a visit to the restroom, he dropped his false teeth into the toilet. Honda did not hesitate momentarily and climbed into a cesspool, found the jaw, and went straight into the bathroom; after some time, he came out, dashingly dancing with dentures in his mouth. He was able to relieve stress instantly, and the deal was saved. Recalling the incident, Soichiro said: “The man, who stands at the head of the company, should be ready to act in such a way that it may seem strange to other employees. Repeating these steps several times is unnecessary: it is enough of one precedent to make your team follow you.”
A rapidly growing company requires utterly new approaches to management. Management improvements implemented at Honda Company were genuinely revolutionary. The departments were delineated and were responsible for the scientific and technical developments and units engaged in direct production. Honda Research Center got an autonomous status and was abandoned from the management pyramid. A design engineer’s promotion depended not on the vacant positions but on personal achievements. Soichiro had always opposed the hierarchical form of management, believing that “in general, people work harder and more innovative if they are not forced—quite a different picture of where they are strongly suggested what to do. Honda’s system was designed to raise geniuses who would replace him as president sooner or later.
Incidentally, the fact that Soichiro did not intend to transfer business to heirs played a vital role in the company’s receiving long-term bank loans: the financiers were confident it would be passed on to highly qualified professionals. The quintessence of new approaches to management and production was enunciated by Honda in January 1956 and was called “The Company Principle.” Their essence can be summarized in four basic principles: the creation of new markets, participation of all employees in management, internationalization of production, and solution of technical and other problems without looking back to precedents, traditions, and common views.
Honda’s motorcycle business was rapidly gaining momentum. In 1961, the company produced 100 thousand motorcycles per month, and in 1968, the company was producing one million motorcycles per month. By the mid-80s, Soichiro was holding 60% of the world market in his hands, and by the 90s, the company’s production reached 3 million motorcycles a year.
Entering the Automotive Market
Having reached the motorcycle industry’s top, Honda decided he could now implement a cherished dream: to create automobiles. As a child, he was mesmerized when he first saw a car. In his bio, he recalls this impression: “Forgetting about everything in the world, I was running after the car…I was deeply moved…I think it was then, although I was very young, I had the idea that someday I would construct a car myself.”
In the conquest of the automotive market, Honda made a bet on his favorite race cars. The first one was debuted in 1962. While Japanese officials tried to convince him of the futility of the project, arguing that the country did not need another car manufacturer, the energetic entrepreneur did not listen to their arguments. In 1970, Soichiro Honda won the highly competitive automotive industry.
One of the first attacks, Soichiro Honda, took on the problem of exhaust gases. None of the world’s car automakers could handle it directly, so they solved it by creating a catalytic converter. And only Honda could design the first engine with a low pollution level. This environmentally friendly device he installed on the Honda Civic model was launched into production in 1975 and quickly gained immense popularity.
Ignoring the traditional idea that American workers cannot assemble high-quality Japanese cars, in the mid-70s, Honda was built in Marysville, Ohio. This plant was going to manufacture cars that matched the quality standards of the Japanese assembly. The Honda Accord that was manufactured there was the sales leader in the U.S. in the late 80s. Thanks to this car, Soichiro was the first Japanese leader noted in the Hall of Fame of the American automobile industry.
The Largest Car Manufacturer in Japan
At the beginning of the 80s, Honda Motor Co., Inc. was the third largest producer of cars in Japan. By the end of the decade, it was the third-largest company in the world.
For elegant solutions to complex engineering problems, Honda has always walked the easiest way. Its production was addressed to all men, women, teenagers, and every individual. It was designed for substantial middle-class consumers, who, until his producers, did not take into account. The main force of the entrepreneur was not only bold and elegant technical solutions, the beauty of design, but also the market intuition, which he possessed by nature.
In Honda’s opinion, the secret of his success is that he had always been guided by the empirical method of “trials and errors.” And he also believed that “employers must be willing to set incredible goals and be ready for defeat.”
According to Soichiro, another essential quality of a businessman is the ability to take risks. He did not admit defeat and was willing to risk everything for his beliefs and ideas to achieve a goal.
Among his employees, he was known as “Mr. Thunderstorm”. He got this nickname for emotional outbursts. Honda was loved yet feared his wrath. Soichiro Honda served as an example of a man with perseverance, modesty, pleasant manners, and the ability to accept mistakes as a valuable asset to his employees and family – his wife, Sachi, and his children (two boys and two daughters).
While Honda vehicles quickly and confidently took the leading place in the world market, he had been the stepchild in the Japanese automotive industry. He rejected Japan’s business world because of the denial of business people’s traditional pillars of the economy. His rebelliousness was especially manifested in the early 70s, when Japan had the oil crisis, and all manufacturers agreed to reduce output and raise prices. But only Soichiro refused to participate and did everything to oppose the scenario: he doubled production and lowered costs. And he was right. The company’s sales of Nissan and Toyota fell by 40%, while Honda’s grew by 76%.
This rebellious businessman tirelessly fought with traditions all his life. For example, he often refused to hire professionals who had received higher education because he believed that dogmatic thinking would hinder the search for new ways of development. He resisted the influence of business traditions in Honda Motor, which always had its principles. But he never renounced his errors, saying: “Looking back on my work, I feel that I was doing nothing more than mistakes, blunders and serious omissions. But I am proud of my achievements. Although I made one mistake after another, my mistakes and failures never occurred for the same reasons”.
Honda had worked for 65 years in the company and personally tested every new car. He never admitted his relatives to the leadership: “No matter how outstanding the company’s founder could be, there is no guarantee that his son would be capable of the same. The company’s management should be given to a person with the distinctive qualities of a leader.”
Retirement & Death
In 1973, Honda Motor Co., Inc. celebrated its 25th anniversary. During the board of directors meeting dedicated to this event, Soichiro Honda declared that he would retire. As expected, the new president was chosen from among the employees. The founding father was fond of saying the company thrives when its former chief appears there as seldom as possible. So, his departure from the office was final.
But Honda was full of energy to remain idle. He was elected vice president of the Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and the Association of Japanese Automotive Industry. He founded two NGOs – the International Association of Traffic and Safety Sciences and the Honda Foundation. He also studied the influence of science and technology on the environment and developed an environmentally friendly technology. He also lectured at international conferences.
The legendary businessman died on August 5, 1991. By the end of his life, he came up with many achievements, including 470 inventions and 150 patents, an honorary doctorate at Michigan Technical University and Ohio State University, the highest honor of his country – Japan’s Blue Ribbon – and many other achievements. Starting a business of $3,200, he created the most prominent company with an annual revenue of more than $30 billion.
Soichiro Honda once said: “Many people dream of success. I believe that success can be achieved only through repeated failure and self-analysis. Success is only one percent of your work; the rest is overcoming obstacles. If you are not afraid of them, success will come to you itself”. Today’s prosperity of Honda Motor Co., Inc. proves the truth of its founder.
We hope you’ve enjoyed reading the Soichiro Honda biography, which inspired you to make discoveries.
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