For sure, it is difficult to find someone who hasn’t heard of Honda, the Brand. Also, many of you might have even heard that its founder Soichiro Honda took a tiny company making piston rings and motorized bicycles and turned it into the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturers.
But only few of you might have taken that extra step to know the finer aspects of how a school dropout mechanic who was once laughed at by the engineers of Toyota because his piston didn’t match their quality standards stood committed against hardships and failures to build brick-by-brick the Honda Motors, a multi-billion dollar company. Here is the inspiring tale:
Japan, like any other country, was reeling under the great economic depression of the 1930s. At this time, young Soichiro Honda was still in school, and the year was 1938. His father was a blacksmith who owned a tiny bicycle shop, where Soichiro was often found helping him. His mother Mika was a weaver. Soichiro dropped out of school at a very young age, and at 15 with no formal education, he left for Tokyo in search of a job. Except that he worked as a mechanic for two years, life for him was not heading anywhere.
He came back. He started his own little workshop making piston ring. His goal was to bag a contract with Toyota, the automobile giant. But with no working capital, it was difficult. He had to pawn his wife’s jewelry to fund the project. He labored day and night, no rest, seldom went home, slept in his workshop, and at last, perfected the piston ring. Finally, the big day came. He went to Toyota with a sample, only to be told by the engineers that the piston ring didn’t match Toyota’s quality standards. Also, they laughed and ridiculed him.
This incident was unfortunate for poor Soichiro, but did he give up? No!!
Rejection made him more resilient to failure. He relentlessly pursued his goal; the goal now was to make a piston ring that meets Toyota’s quality standards. After nearly two years of hard work, he won, he perfected the piston ring, and also bagged his first contract with Toyota.
He had the contract from Toyota in his hand but no company of his own. Added to this, Japan was readying itself for the war, World War II. Building raw materials were scarcity. Undeterred by lack of resource, he went on to make his own concrete-making machine and built his own building. He started work in the new company, but it was short-lived. The company was bombed twice and the third time, an earthquake erased it to the ground.
Did these catastrophic events shake him up? No!! He rebounded back in no time. Hope and optimism never left him. He trudged forward with no regrets.
The war ended, gasoline was in shortage, people used to either walk or ride bicycles. Soichiro sensed an opportunity in this shortcoming; he invented a tiny engine and attached it to his bicycle. He rode around on this motorized bicycle. His neighbors wanted him to make one for them. But he couldn’t meet their demands for lack of raw materials and funding.
Was this roadblock the end of Honda?
A brave new chapter began to unfold here…..A chapter that was going to etch itself in the minds of the people the world over….
He wrote an inspiring letter to all the bicycle owners (small and big) in Japan, around 18000 of them. He asked them help. Nearly 5000 bicycle shop owners came forward and funded his company with whatever little they could. After repeated efforts at improving the engine, “The Super Cub” was introduced. This tiny engine found many takers in Japan and later USA and other European countries started importing it.
In 1949, Honda came out with its first true motorcycle, a 2-stroke fitted with 98 cc engine. Honda then went on to produce some of the world’s most enviable motorcycles which outdid even Harley-Davidson. With this success, Honda started its journey towards becoming a multi-billion dollar company.
In 1970s, America was affected with gasoline shortage. Americans went in for small cars. Honda was quick enough to get in line with the trend. They started making small cars and the success was another feather on their cap. They started to tap the car market.
Today, Honda Corporation employs more than 2,00,000 people in the US, Japan, as well as other parts of the world.
Honda happened all because one school dropout mechanic had the guts to stand against all odds, undeterred by the failures, and committed to his goal.
It is truly inspiring that Soichiro Honda, with no formal education, touches the lives of so many involved with Honda company; directly or indirectly.
Loohpa salutes this great man, Soichiro Honda.