The reason I am writing a post about Soichiro Honda is his tireless effort and determination. During the Covid-19 pandemic, we had difficulties or challenges in life or work. Soichiro’s stories would be a mirror and inspire us to overcome our own dilemma. It encourages us to see and take advantage of the better side of negative situations.
Soichiro Honda’s success is patience and determination
Honda corporation is a well-known automobile group in Japan and very popular worldwide in cars and motorbikes. It has created a breakthrough in the vehicle industry with luxury cars, sports cars and family cars. Starting October 1946, it opened the Honda Technical Research Center in Hamamatsu, Japan. From a stepping stone, Honda developed and produced 2-cycle motorbike engines. After that, Honda Motor Company came into shape and established its first store in Los Angeles a year later. In 1979, it celebrated the groundbreaking of its first U.S-based plant with more than 25,000 American workers. Furthermore, over 100,000 staff work at authorized Honda dealerships in the U.S. Thousands of Americans are hired by over 600 American suppliers dealing with Honda.
Behind the glory of success and impressive achievement is Soichiro’s strong will, firm resolution, and tireless effort. He is a founder of the Honda Group. However, few people knew he wasn’t a good student.
Childhood of Soichiro Honda
Soichiro was born on November 17, 1906, into a relatively low-income family. His father, Gihei, was a skilled blacksmith, and Mika, his mother, an accomplished weaver. Although the father was a labourer, he highly appreciated the education. He implanted a sense of honour and respect into a young boy, Soichiro. Partly due to his upbringing, Soichiro has developed punctuality in high esteem. In the old times, all families had to have a seal to stamp on their children’s grade report. Due to badly studying, Soichiro was scolded by his parents. Since he was a smart boy, he found a way to avoid this reprimand by forging a rubber seal. Soichiro produced a chop from used material in the bicycle store. Therefore, he was safe from the complaints of his parents.
In addition, he was very “generous” in making a seal for each of his two close friends. They were all bad students in the class. They were common in preferring playing to learning. But they couldn’t hide this fraud forever. Finally, what had to happen took place. The school administration identified their tricks. As a leader of cheating and “inventor” of a rubber seal, Soichiro had to “leave” the school forever.
Bicycle shop helper
In Soichiro’s early childhood, the bicycle was a common means of transportation. Many came to his father to have their bicycles repaired. Sensing a good chance to do business, he opened a small bicycle repair shop to fix their machines. Additionally, using manual skills, his father renewed second-hand or old bicycles to sell to customers at a reasonable price. As a result, his business grew prosperous and became the best repair shop in the town.
After dropping out, he spent most of his time helping with his father’s bicycle business. Since then, he has developed his talent and skills for fixing things in the store. He inherited his father’s manual dexterity and in-detail curiosity. Instead, he wasn’t good at studying at school. However, even then childhood, Soichiro had a passion for automobiles and helped his father with bicycle repair. Then, at the tender age of 15, he left his home village for Tokyo to seek a chance to change his life. His departure was a turning point in his life. With his talent and enthusiasm, it wasn’t difficult for him to land a job.
Soichiro Honda’s manhood
This is the first chapter of Soichiro’s story. One day, he saw an ad for Tokyo Art Shokai, an automobile firm, in the Bicycle World Magazine. It was not for a bicycle ad, but he was thrilled with a new job. He remembered, one day in his own village, he saw a vehicle passing. The smell of gasoline had spellbound him right away. He loved the mesmerising scent. He plucked up his courage to write an application letter for a job. We don’t know what he wrote in the letter. But, in the end, he landed a job which was his vital milestone. He started his career as an automobile apprentice under Yuzo Sakakibara, his first boss. Soichiro learned Yuzo lots of automobile and motorcycle engineering as well as skills for operating a business. It was a stepping stone for him to grow his future career. He put the experience from his tutelage into great use to establish his own business. During this period, his knowledge and zeal towards technology had grown into a building block. From then onwards, Soichiro’s career successes have begun coming into shape.
For him, a job isn’t a piece of work but pleasure. In the daytime, he worked for an automobile shop. In the evening, he devoted himself to designing a better piston to sell to the Toyota Company. This project took him lots of time and energy. He even fell into the shortage of capital for this project. Consequently, he sold his wife’s jewellery to cover the project’s expenses and pursued his desire. Thinking that the owner of the Toyota Company would give the nod to his project, he was confident to bring it to him. To his surprise, they refused it. Did he collapse?
Back to school
No, Soichiro never gave up on challenges. In contrast, these difficulties have fostered his determination and persistence much more. At that time, he thought that he needed more education and decided to return to school to complete the knowledge of metallurgy. At university, teachers and students laughed at his design. But he put all criticism aside and just concentrated on what he wanted to do. He learned hard in school and ignored the rest.
Soichiro’s thoughts about learning are quite different from others. He ignored and refused examinations or tests because he thought he took time to do them and didn’t see any importance in grades. One day, a teacher berated him for not doing assignments. Immediately, he retorted that any diploma or degree would matter nothing before his teacher’s unuttered surprise. As for him, they are worse than a movie ticket. With a ticket, he could enter a cinema to have a moment of relaxation or entertainment while a diploma or degree exchanged nothing.
Back to a design of a better piston, he never surrendered his initial goal. Instead, the more he looked at the problems of the previous designs, the more he identified solutions. Correspondently, Soichiro made the latter better than the first. Finally, the design became a state-of-art piece which the Toyota Company approved at first sight. According to him, failures in a job or life offer a window of opportunities to understand what to operate and improve. Or success is 99% failure.
Again, Soichiro had to face an at-that-time challenge. The government of Japan entered World War Two with the U.S. Army and needed raw materials to manufacture military equipment. Japan fell into a shortage of steel. Now he wanted to establish a factory to produce piston rings for cars, motorbikes, and aeroplanes. Honda invented a new concrete making process to build a factory, although things didn’t go smoothly after that.
An adage says: “Misfortune never comes alone”. Twice, U.S. planes attacked his factory and wrecked it. Due to war, steel wasn’t available. For other people, they would have surrendered at this point. But with tremendous persistence and quick resilience, Honda sought yet another way to conquer.
When the U.S. planes bombed his factory, Soichiro didn’t feel depressed but saw presents dropping from the sky. He rallied all the workers right away. He asked them to see where the planes dropped empty gas cans to collect them. According to him, it was raw materials they needed for their manufacturing process. Thus, he finds the good in the bad situation. This is one of his personal characteristics.
The US Airforce pilots threw away their used gasoline cans. Soichiro called them little gifts from heaven or President Truman, so he collected them and used the steel to fix his factory. Unfortunately, Japan was hit by a massive earthquake that completely wiped out Honda manufacturing factories. He was again quite out of business. Soichiro decided to sell its valuable manufacturing processes to Toyota. He said to himself: “It’s the end of the company.”
Introduction of motorised bicycle
When the war came to an end, Japan suffered from a huge fuel shortage; transport around the country was impossible. Since gasoline was rationed, Mr Honda didn’t have enough gas to go to market by car. The locals either got the train or rode a bicycle. Honda had an enthusiastic love of the nation and didn’t want to see his friends on their knees. So he had the idea of putting a motor on a bicycle to go around.
He thought a little motor he was having fitted for a lawn. A bicycle needed a more powerful motor. A new idea came up; a new motorised bicycle came into sight. He rode it to a market in front of thousands of people’s amazing eyes. Pretty soon, many friends asked him to make them a new one. A great success returned.
A new chapter of the Honda Cub
His friends appreciated this new “motorized bicycle” and gave him a lot of orders. Honda seemed to be back in its magnificent business. However, it needed more investment to produce a scooter. How to solve this matter? He came up with a new idea. He wrote a letter of request to 18,000 bicycle shop owners for financial support to reconstruct the country. How do you imagine that he hand-wrote 18,000 individual letters! A hand-written letter shows respect.
For this reason, he got a response from 5,000 bicycle store owners who agreed after receiving his letter. He created strategic alliances with these owners and let them see the way he increased their bike sales. In fact, he earned more money than he needed for production.
Overcoming many extremely challenging situations, The Honda Corporation became one of the biggest automobile companies in the world. It’s one of the world’s largest motorcycle producers, too. It hires more than 200,000 people worldwide with revenues of over $10 billion a year.
Nobody denies the success of the Honda roots from Soichiro’s sheer determination in the face of nearly unimaginable odds. Hardly we stand up to start from scratch after witnessing our factories destroyed three times.
Lessons from Soichiro Honda
Through Soichiro’s career and life, we see the passion in him. The passion shows in the period of being an automobile mechanic. At Hart Shokai Company, an automobile workshop in Japan, Soichiro was an excellent employee. He was the last mechanic to fix an engine after the others could not repair it. Sometimes, he worked until late at night or until the early following morning to satisfy customer service. As he had to work in the daytime in a factory, he spent a night completing his piston ring project. Difficulties and challenges couldn’t prevent him from reaching a final goal. Even after failures, Soichiro had a quick resilience to stand up from scratch to pursue his ongoing job.
In a word, what we learn is passion or interest. Two characteristics would lead to our lives full of ambition. This ambition helps us consider work not as pain but a preferred thing that makes us untired. Thus, we select a job we have a passion for or are interested in; success will come to us down the road.
The most hits on Soichiro’s factory were the U.S bombing planes and the earthquake, which nearly eradicated it. Facing this terrible damage, Soichiro never had in his mind any intention of giving up unfavourable situations. Even though he had to start from scratch, in his belief, the bitter end would come to an end in the not-too-long-distance future.
What we learn here is a strong will. Failure is only an obstacle to stop us from thinking of a new method to overcome our current problem.
Through the piston project, in addition to persistence, Soichiro developed his innovation. The previous failure was a lesson or experience that helped him develop a new idea to correct an error he had just made. Take an example of a motorised bicycle. After World War II, Japan fell into the turmoil of oil. People needed a means of transportation to go around daily, which consumed a little gasoline. Innovation helped Soichiro invent a new design of the motorised bicycle.
In reality, our job requires innovation in any aspect. It will make us different from our opponents in any way, which leads us to success.
In summary, Soichiro Honda is only an ordinary man but a person who nurtured a dream and made it come true. Soichiro’s life is not only a compelling story but also a lesson of solid determination and unfaded persistence. For a reader, it’s not only a fascinating post but also something inspiring them to overcome their own obstacles.
- Heritage challenges https://global.honda/heritage/episodes/1936joyofmanufacturing.html
- Making decisions on sites and acting quickly https://global.honda/content/dam/site/global/about/cq_img/sustainability/environment/Face/archives/PDF/7.pdf
- Soichiro Honda: the founder of Honda and legend https://interestingengineering.com/soichiro-honda-the-founder-of-honda-and-the-legend
- Featured Image: https://japanesenostalgiccar.com/