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The Story of Soichiro Honda

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Soichiro Honda (1906 – 1991), the founder of the Honda Motor Company, often remembered three aspects of his childhood and how they contrasted with his life as a businessman:

Soichiro Honda’s childhood Situation later in life
His family was extremely poor, and five of his eight siblings died when they were children. Honda later became a very wealthy man and built a multi-billion-dollar company.
He disliked school and believed that it was more valuable to learn how to make things with one’s own hands. Honda said that degrees and diplomas were, “worth less than a movie ticket”. He recruited employees to his company who were practical and not full of bookish knowledge.
He was fascinated by all kinds of engines and motors and wanted to build a motor himself. He would be happiest when his grandfather took him to see a rice-polishing mill, the only motor-driven machine near his hometown Honda succeeded by making his own engines and the Honda Motor Company is now the largest motorcycle manufacturer worldwide and a major auto company as well.

At age 15 Honda left school and went to Tokyo to work as an apprentice mechanic. After a few years, he returned to his hometown and set up a workshop, affiliated with the Tokyo company where he used to work.

Honda also became a part-time racing car driver. However, in 1936, while driving in a high-speed race, Honda was involved in a crash. Honda fortunately survived but needed to spend three months in hospital. While he did not resume race car driving, his passion for racing meant that he made his company participate in motorcycle and formula 1 races worldwide, often winning multiples races each year. Honda said, “If the Honda Motor company does not race, there is no Honda Motor Company.”

Just after World War II ended in 1945, Honda designed and manufactured a small engine that he combined with a cycle, to create a simple motorcycle. This became so popular that in 1948 Honda formed the Honda Motor Company. In 1959, just over ten years after the company was formed, Honda Motor Company became the largest manufacturer of motorcycles worldwide, a No. 1 position it has held continuously till today.

Honda was always independent minded. In the mid-1950s when Honda decided to enter the car market, Japanese government officials tried hard to stop him. The government’s logic was that there were enough car manufacturers in Japan and that Honda should focus only on motorcycles. Honda defied the government, a rare occurrence in Japanese culture, and went ahead with the car project. The first car was manufactured in 1957 and the company went on to be extraordinarily successful in the auto market.

Honda had two daughters and a son but did not believe in introducing family members into the business. When Honda retired in 1973, his successor came from one of the company’s employees.

Honda’s advice to young people was, “Instead of being afraid of the challenge and failure, be afraid of avoiding the challenge and doing nothing.”

© Kaikhushru Taraporevala

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