Soichiro Honda Biography: A Great History of Japanese Car Manufacturer

Soichiro Honda

Soichiro Honda

In this article we will share a story about Soichiro Honda biography. It was the man who changed a usual view on traditions of running business and not only in his country but also almost in every country around the world. Enjoy reading the story about inventions, trials and failures and success.

Soichiro Honda (本田 宗一郎, November 17, 1906 – August 5, 1991) is Japanese entrepreneur and inventor, engaged in the development and industrial production of mopeds, motorcycles and cars. He is the founder of 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 and etc. He is the owner of multibillion-dollar status.

Perhaps it would be difficult to find a person who has not heard about Honda Motor Company. And this is not surprising, because people from more than 140 countries around the world 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 great quality is welcomed by society. The second joy is when a seller is happy because a buyer has got a Honda product. The third joy belongs to the buyer. The buyer is so happy that he or she bought the product of Honda.

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 that is investing in the development of high-tech projects and is working to radically improve the environmental performance of manufactured products. The potential of Honda engineers is fully consistent to the professional level of sales managers around the world. Such a tandem has been ensuring the success of the company for many years and gives confidence to be as successful in the future.

Soichiro Honda Biography

Soichiro Honda Biography

Soichiro Honda, the founder of Honda Company, was born on November 17, 1906 in Japan, Hamamatsu, Shizuoka. His mother, Mika, was a weaver, and even designed her own loom to weave particularly complex patterns. And his father, Gihei, was a blacksmith, who ran a bicycle repair business. The bicycle transport became extremely popular in big cities those years. His father was buying 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 he 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 other children’s family names were not symmetrical. When the teacher noticed that, he said with the smile that some hieroglyphs were not mirror-imaged. Soichiro Honda’s father left him without a lunch and put him in a corner on his knees for a whole day and he did that not for the forgery but for the fact that Soichiro did not notice the relation between seal pattern and stamp itself.

Curtiss

Curtiss

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 as the youngest employee, there was left only cleaning and preparing meals job for him. 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 cars from a burning garage, but he had never sat behind the wheel. Honda was assigned as an assistance at Art Shokai; he helped the workshop’s proprietors, the Sakakibara brothers, in designing a Curtiss race car. Soichiro was a riding mechanic at races and their team took the 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 in five year after the earthquake, Yuzo Sakakibara expanded his business by opening several branches in the province. One of them was led by 21 year 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 to metal ones on the wheels 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.

Honda A-Type

Honda A-Type

Soichiro literally lived in the workshop, developing piston rings. But it didn’t give any fruits. Honda even handed over the jewels of his wife to the pawn shop. Only after that he admitted his incompetence in the foundry business and changed the 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 was saying. Now he has decided to acquire the necessary knowledge in the technological school of Hamamatsu. And all his spare time Honda devoted to the racing car design. Having developed his own method of engine cooling, he resolved the main problem of the all sport 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 – 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.

Being at the hospital, Soichiro received bad news. Out of 30,000 piston rings, which he produced in the 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 was dropped out of the college because he refused to take the examination: Soichiro needed knowledge, but not a diploma.

Any other man, perhaps, would give up in such situation. But after recovering, Honda opened his own business in Hamamatsu. In 1937, Honda founded the company ‘Tokai Seiki’ and started producing the piston rings, production technology of which had been finally found. Things went uphill.

During the Sino-Japanese War and then World War II Honda’s company was providing ‘Toyota’ with the 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” came to an end. In 1945, Hamamatsu was undergone a massive bombardment by American aircraft. Honda assumed that the country is entering into 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 ten thousand yen the businessman spent on the purchase of alcohol tank. By installing it in his yard, he said publicly that he was going to rest a year. Indeed, Soichiro spent a year in drunken revels, treating friends with homemade whiskey.

In 1946 Honda opened his own ‘factory’ with a grandiloquent name – ‘Honda Technology Research Institute’ and became engaged in artisanal production of mopeds. He fitted a generator engine of a tiny army radio to a bicycle, used 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 by a two-stroke engine of his own design. It was the first original Honda A-Type product moped of indefatigable businessman which was developed in 1947. And after two years the ‘Institute’ became the Honda Motor Company.

Dream-D Type

Dream-D Type

In 1949, the first model of a motorcycle with a two-stroke engine Soichiro called ‘The Dream’. Two years later he started the production of a model with four-stroke engine. And by 1958, when his model of “Super Cub” model came to the U.S., Honda was already the largest Japanese manufacturer of motorcycles, leaving behind not only 50 Japanese competitors but also 200 competitors from other countries.

As soon as the Honda Motor began producing motorcycles, foreign companies were interested in the production of Honda. To sign up a contract their representatives came to Japan. There was a story which happened with one of the foreign partners and which was included in all the biographies of Honda Soichiro.

Once, Honda overdid when treating a regular guest with sake. The guest felt very bad and during a visit to the WC he dropped his false teeth into the toilet. Honda did not hesitate for a moment and climbed into a cesspool, found the jaw and he went straight into the bathroom, after some time he came out, dashingly dancing with dentures in the mouth. He was able to instantly relieve stress and the deal was saved. Soichiro, recalling the incident, 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. It is not necessary to repeat these steps several times: it is enough of one precedent to make your team follow you.”

Rapidly growing company required completely new approaches to management. Management improvements implemented at Honda Company were truly revolutionary. The departments were clearly delineated and were responsible for the scientific and technical developments and units engaged in direct production. Honda Research Center got an autonomous status and it abandoned from the management pyramid. Design engineer’s promotion depended not on the vacated positions but on the personal achievements. Soichiro had always opposed to 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 sooner or later will replace him as president.

Incidentally, the fact that Soichiro did not intend to transfer business to heirs, played a very important role in the company receiving long-term bank loans: the financiers were confident that it would be passed into the hands of highly qualified professionals. The quintessence of new approaches to management and production were 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, 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 was producing 100 thousand motorcycles per month and in 1968, the company was producing one million motorcycles per month. By the mid-80s, Soichiro was holding in his hands 60% of the world market and by 90s the company’s production reached 3 million motorcycles a year.

Having reached the top in the motorcycle industry, Honda decided that now he can proceed with the implementation of a cherished dream – to create automobiles. When he was a child, he was literally 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 will construct a car myself.”

Super Cub

Super Cub

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 in the futility of the project, arguing that the country did not need another car manufacturer, but energetic entrepreneur did not listen their arguments. In 1970 Soichiro Honda was the winner in 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 not handle it directly, and solved it by creating a catalytic converter. And only Honda was able to design the first engine with a low pollution level. This environmentally friendly device he installed to Honda Civic model that was launched into production in 1975 and quickly gained immense popularity.

Ignoring the traditional idea that American workers are not able to assemble high-quality Japanese cars, in the mid-70s Honda built in Marysville, Ohio a plant which was going to manufacture cars that match the quality standards of the Japanese assembly. 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.

At beginning of the 80s Honda Motor Co., Inc. was the third largest producer of cars in Japan. And by the end of the decade it was the third 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 particular. It was designed for very large 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 in the market intuition, which he possessed by nature.

To Honda’s opinion the secret of his success lies in the fact 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”.

Another essential quality of a businessman, according to Soichiro, is the ability to take risks. He did not admit defeat and was willing to risk everything for his beliefs and ideas, in order to achieve set goal.

Among his employees, he was known as “Mr. Thunderstorm”. He got this nickname for emotional outbursts. Honda was loved, by yet was feared his wrath. Soichiro Honda served as an example of a man with perseverance, modesty, pleasant manners and with 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 Japanese automotive industry. The reason for his rejection of Japan’s business world was in the denial of businessman traditional pillars of the economy. His rebelliousness was especially manifested in the early 70s, when Japan had the oil crisis and all of the manufacturers agreed to reduce output and raise prices. But only Soichiro refused to participate in that and did everything to oppose the scenario: he doubled the production and lowered prices. And he was right. The company’s sales of Nissan and Toyota fell by 40%, while Honda’s ones did grew up by 76%.

All his life this rebellious businessman was tirelessly fighting with traditions. For example, he refused to hire professionals for many times, who had received higher education, because he believed that dogmatic thinking would be a hindrance in the search for new ways of development. He resisted the influence of business traditions to the world of Honda Motor, which always had its principles. But he never renounced his errors about which he said: “Looking back on my work, I feel that I was doing nothing more than mistakes, blunders and serious omissions. But I am proud of the achievements. Although I did one mistake after another, my mistakes and failures never occurred to the same reasons”.

Honda had worked for 65 years in the company and personally tested every new car. He never admitted his relatives

Honda Civic

Honda Civic 1975

to the leadership: “No matter how outstanding could be the company’s founder; there is no guarantee that his son would be capable of the same. The company’s management should be given to a person who has the distinctive qualities of a leader.”

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 was going to retire. The new president, as expected, was chosen from among the employees. The founding father was fond of saying that 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 as the 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 and 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 a large store of achievements, which were 470 inventions and 150 patents, honorary doctorate at Michigan Technical University and Ohio State University, the highest honor of his country – Japan’s Blue Ribbon – and many other more achievements. Starting a business having $ 3,200 thousand dollars, he created the largest company with annual revenue of more than $ 30 billion dollars.

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, and the rest – bold overcoming of 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 Soichiro Honda biography and it’s inspired you to new discoveries.

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Tags: Biography

  • Webmaster Master

    This is amazing story! I especially like the Honda’s trick with family seal when he was at school. Looks  like he was very innovative being a child that is why he reached so many goals during his life. Thank you again for sharing!

  • great! !Truely inspiring ……..All successfull people started their work in garage those days and landed up in establishing Companies…

  • Hi, if I want to cite this page for the bibliography, who do I put as the author?

    • Hi Timothyh, thank you for your question. The article was written by AstrumPeople magazine.

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  • Kristina Pidluska

    Thank you for article. I used it for my report.