First Leg of Race
Soichiro Honda was born on November 17, 1906 to Geihi Honda - a skilled blacksmith and his wife Mika - an accomplished weaver, in a small village of Komyo, in the Tenryu province of Mamamatsu. Childhood may not be privileged but well balanced with mix of discipline and experiential learning imparted by his father. Young Soichiro always had a thing for mechanics and engines and longed to do more than assisting father at his bicycle shop. He was 16 when he saw an advertisement of Art Shokai Automobile workshop in Tokyo. The workshop was renowned for the finest repair services of automobiles in the city. It wasn’t a vacancy advertisement yet Soichiro wrote to the management for apprenticeship. He received a positive reply and within a week the dreamer left for Tokyo. This was the kind of single-minded dedication of Soichiro Honda that led him to his dream to build automobiles in later years.
At Art Shokai workshop he quickly learnt the nuances of automobile repairing and earned a reputation of being a prolific mechanic. It is here that he learnt to manufacture piston rings under the tutelage of his boss Yuzo Sakakibara. Soichiro not only learnt repairing work, but also how to deal with customers and the importance of taking pride in his technical competency and his work.
Few Bumps on the Road
On September 1, 1923. A great earthquake struck Japan, the operations of Art Shokai workshop were disrupted as many employees left to rebuild lost homes and lives. The tragedy turned into a blessing for this budding engineer who got an opportunity to repair motorcycles and cars of his customers. In 1928, the company expanded rapidly and the owners decided to open up branches in other cities. At all of 22 year’s, Soichiro Honda was bestowed the responsibility of managing the Hamamatsu Branch. This also gave him the opportunity to explore his talent as an inventor. With ingenuity, Soichiro built a racing car from the ground up and powered it with an overhauled ford engine. The race car broke 100 mph barrier on the Japanese racing circuit. Himself a racing enthusiast, Soichiro drove his own car until in 1936 a near fatal accident at the racetrack nearly ended his life and career in racing.
In 1937, Soichiro Honda, now 31, invested his life savings of $3200 in a piston ring manufacturing company called the Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry. The company supplied piston rings to Toyota and later to the Imperial Japanese Army and Air force. Soichiro’s first lesson in manufacturing came when his 3000 piston rings supplied to Toyota failed the quality control standards. Out of 3000 rings only 50 rings were considered by the company, it was a major dent in Soichiro’s profit. This prompted him to enroll at the Hamamatsu Industrial Institute, and study metallurgy for two years. He built-in quality systems in his manufacturing line and went on to build a successful business supplying to automotive industry and the Japanese Army.
The attack on Pearl Harbour brought war to Japanese shores. In retaliation Allied air force bombed Hamamatsu Air-Base. In the air raid, Honda’s manufacturing plant was partially destroyed. He re-built his plant and restored the assembly line. However, in 1945 another earthquake shook Hamamatsu, his plant was destroyed beyond financial revival. No longer keen to rebuild his company, Soichiro Honda sold it to Toyota motors and went on a yearlong sabbatical. He enrolled himself in Hamamatsu Technical College and learned automobile engineering but didn’t appear for the final exams. Soichiro Honda was an engineer without a degree.
The Course is Set
Post-World War II, Japan set on a path of nation building with the manufacturing sector taking lead in producing world-class products at affordable prices. Many of the world-leading Japanese corporations built their identity on venerable Japanese values of relentless quality, efficient/lean manufacturing and continuous improvement. Soichiro established the Honda Technical Research Institute in October 1946. Soichiro procured tiny 2 stroke radio engines from the Army and refitted them on bicycles. This cheap motorized vehicle became an instant hit among the masses who couldn’t afford a high cost automobile. In 1948, he established his motorcycle manufacturing plant.
Further research and development led to production of model Type-A. It was success against competition of 200 manufacturers of motorized vehicles in the country. When “The Dream Type-D” model hit the market, it changed the Japanese two-wheeler industry forever. This was his second lesson in manufacturing – ‘good products need good marketing strategy’. In the year 1950, a momentous occasion was recorded in the history of Honda Motor Company when Tekeao Fujisawa met with Soichiro Honda and the partnership forged future growth of the company. Fujisawa controlled the business operations for the company while Soichiro Honda spent his entire time in research and development. At the manufacturing plant, high standards of quality were ensured in every department. Manufacturing superior engines became Honda’s topmost priority and as a result Type-E was launched. The motorcycle featured a 4-stroke engine and generated 5.5 horsepower. Fujisawa’s business acumen led to the production of a light motorized 50cc vehicle - Type Cub. This low-end model won hearts and ended the woes of thousands of Japanese who couldn’t afford a car. The company established new factories and R&D labs to meet the growing demands. Honda Motors secured its finances by issuing an Initial Public Offering in 1955 and got listed on Tokyo stock exchange. By the end of 1956, Honda Motors was the leading motorcycle manufacturer in Japan.
Soichiro Honda crafted some important milestones before the chose to retire in the year 1973 on the 25th Anniversary of Honda Motors.
⦁ In 1959, Honda Motors entered the US motorcycle industry dominated by heavy motorbikes like Harley Davidson and Indian
⦁ Honda Motors experienced success with the redesigned American version of Super Cub which came in 50 cc engine generating 4.5HP and was the most fuel-efficient motorbike in the country.
⦁ The sales success was built on an unconventional Japanese style. The company’s sales team drove in Honda trucks loading its bike from city to city. They sold their unit to dealers exclusively in person. The unique distribution method worked for the company and the sales turned the corner. This was innovative thinking in a difficult market.
⦁ Honda Motors entered the world of motorcycle racing when Honda Racing Team participated in the Isle of Man Race in 1959 and challenged established teams. Despite several technical failures, this move was meant to push company’s technological boundaries.
⦁ Honda Motors further strengthened its position in the US with sponsorship of Academy Awards and the Super Bowl in 1964. The company’s advertising campaign “You meet the nicest people on Honda” was iconic - the true reflection of Soichiro Honda.
⦁ Honda Motors wanted to get into manufacturing of cars but Japan’s Trade and Commerce Ministry didn’t issue a license to new automobile manufacturing units. To circumvent this restriction Soichiro Honda decided to pursue Formula-One racing.
⦁ The startup years of struggle gave way to sweet victory for the Honda Racing Team in 1965 Mexican Grand Prix. The victory was followed by pole position in 1967 at Italian Grand Prix, and 11 consecutive victories in Formula Two circuits.
⦁ With proven technological leadership and global recognition, Honda Motor company was able to obtain license for car manufacturing. Honda’s design was inspired by compact FIAT cars which were smaller, easy to manoeuvre in traffic, burned less fuel and required a smaller space for parking. The iconic Honda Civic was launched powered by an innovative Compound Vortex Controlled Combustion engine, which emitted less carbon dioxide and pollutants.
⦁ Though Honda Civic was smaller than most of the imported cars it passed the strict environmental laws of the United States with flying colours, and sales of Honda Civic flew off the charts, becoming number one in USA. The company decided to set up its plant at Marysville, Ohio in 1973. The Accord was added in 1982. The same year saw the launch of the Accura brand with the addition of the Integra and the Legend. The Accura NSX was Japan’s first Supercar.
The HONDA Way
The daring and technology-driven growth of the company was built-on five important management policies instituted by Soichiro Honda, to guide associates in the performance of their daily responsibilities. These management policies help all associates put the mutually shared company philosophy and company principle into practice. Those in management positions have the responsibility to also create a working environmental where their subordinates can also pursue and manifest these policies.
These five Management Policies are:
⦁ proceed always with ambition and youthfulness;
⦁ respect sound theory, develop fresh ideas and make the most effective use of time;
⦁ enjoy your work and always brighten your working atmosphere;
⦁ strive constantly for a harmonious flow of work;
⦁ be ever mindful of the value of research and endeavor.
The Passion behind the White Coveralls
At Honda’s R&D centres and factories, associates wear white work clothes that stain and smudge easily, from the philosophy that “good products come from clean workplaces.” The white outfit also symbolizes the equality of all that work at Honda, including the CEO. White symbolizes Honda’s philosophy for making products wholeheartedly not only in its Japanese facilities, but all over the world.
Few of the Famous Quotes of Soichiro Honda
⦁ If our team had run a business analysis, we would never have ventured into the car business. I simply made a list of the weaknesses of the world’s biggest carmakers – and that list was quite long.
⦁ The worst kind of president is a person who eats in fancy restaurants, smoking a fat cigar and thinking well of himself while employees work in a dirty factory with their hands dirty. If you're like a god, people will respect you, but they won't come close.
⦁ Action without philosophy is a lethal weapon; philosophy without action is worthless.
⦁ People will not sacrifice themselves for the company. They come to work at the company to enjoy themselves. That feeling will lead to innovation.
⦁ We do not make something because the demand, the market, is there. With our technology we can create demand, we can create the market. Supply creates its own demand.
⦁ I’d sooner die than imitate other people…That’s why we had to work so hard! Because we didn’t imitate.
⦁ When I take stock of life, I realize how important the personal contact is, how much more they are worth than the invention of machines, because [people] allow us to expand our view of things, and open up thousands of experiences which we would otherwise be unable to understand.
The understanding of the Honda-way would be incomplete without the most fundamental belief of Honda Philosophy.
Respect for the Individual
Respect for the Individual
Respect for the Individual comes from a fundamental belief in the uniqueness of the Human Being. The Human Being is born with the capacity to think, reason and create. Honda Motor company strives to nurture and promote these unique characteristics.
Honda is comprised of individuals working together for a common purpose. It is the contributions of each associate in our company that create whatever success we have. Every associate is important; every associate should be respected; every associate should be given the opportunity to develop his or her full potential; every associate should be expected to contribute to the company’s success; every associate should be honored for his or her efforts and contribution.
Honda’s philosophy of Respect for the Individual includes the following three points:
Initiative: Associates at Honda should not be bound by preconceived ideas, but should think creatively and act on their own initiative and judgment, while understanding that they must take responsibility for the results of those actions.
Equality: Equality means to recognize and respect individual differences in one another and to treat each other fairly. Our company is committed to this principle and to creating equal opportunities for each individual. An individual’ race, sex, age, religion, national origin, educational background, social or economic status have no bearing on the individual’s opportunities.
Trust: The relationship among associates at Honda should be based on mutual trust. Trust is created by recognizing each other as individuals, helping out where others are deficient, accepting help where we are deficient, sharing our knowledge, and making a sincere effort to fulfill our responsibilities.