The Extraordinary Story of Soichiro Honda
Many of you might have never heard of Soichiro Honda. But there aren’t many people in the world who’ve never heard of the brand “Honda”. Soichiro is the founder of that very famous corporation. His story, outside of his work as a businessman, is an amazing tale of struggle and overcoming hardship.
Soichiro Honda was born into a very humble family, from a small Japanese province called Komyo. The twentieth century had only just begun. A car came to his town for the very first time when he was still young. It was a Ford. The sight of it absolutely fascinated Soichiro. It was incredible to him the many things this huge machine could do. This is the day he started dreaming about creating his own car.
“There is a Japanese proverb that literally goes ‘Raise the sail with your stronger hand’, meaning you must go after the opportunities that arise in life that you are best equipped to do.“
At the age of 15, Soichiro Honda moved to Tokyo and got a job in a factory. He got along well with his boss and had an enormous passion for his work right from the first day. So one day, the factory manager suggested Honda take some plane parts that were lying around and try to build a race car out of them.
The beginnings of the legend of Soichiro Honda
Building a car was Soichiro Honda’s most coveted dream. That’s exactly why, when his boss suggested the idea, he didn’t hesitate for even a second. Combining industrial and handcrafting techniques, he managed to create his first model. He also made most of the parts himself. He sculpted the spokes in its wooden wheels with his own two hands.
This is how the “Curtiss” model came about. It was an extraordinary car they immediately sent to the races. Then, in 1924, it actually won the Japanese championship. At that time, Soichiro Honda was still only 18 years old.
He didn’t just shine as a passionate, persevering mechanic, either. He also became a race car driver. This is another place where he really stood out. He managed to set a speed record by getting his car all the way up to 120 km/hr and this record stood in Japan for twenty years.
A path of perseverance
When Soichiro Honda was 21, he decided to return to his hometown. He’d worked as a factory employee for 6 years and he was ready to take the next step. The next year, he started his own company: “Toukai Precision Machine Company”. Its main function was to manufacture car parts, specifically piston rings.
The story goes that designing those pieces took a huge toll on him. Still, he persisted and managed to manufacture them at an excellent quality. They were so good that the car company Toyota became his client. It was their business that kept him afloat for many, many years.
When he was younger, Soichiro Honda hated studying. He would talk about how if knowing things brought you creativity, all the teachers in the world would be inventors. As the years went on, though, he started to see education as a way to grow. So he decided to sign up for Hamamatsu Technical School, but they expelled him. He refused to show up for the final exam because he saw it as pointless.
Soichiro Honda witnessed both world wars and the military conflicts between China and Japan. The aftermath of World War II left the country completely devastated and demoralized. Honda lost everything he’d built up to that point because of all the bombings.
But that’s when he made a decision to take a year off. He built a whiskey distillery in his house and, during that entire year, he did nothing but make liquor for himself and his friends. He probably also used the time to figure out his next moves since he’d lost it all. His plans must have been very clever because, after that year, he began to succeed.
In 1946, Soichiro Honda founded a new business, called Honda Technical Research Institute. Car fleets in Japan were basically non-existent, so he decided to focus on manufacturing motorcycles, which were cheaper and could be useful under these new circumstances. He made the right choice. He managed to create a light engine that was much less noisy than the others. This catapulted him to success.
In 1973, Soichiro Honda stopped working at his own company. He created the “Honda Foundation”, which was dedicated to protecting the environment. From that year on, he put all his effort and dedication into that task. He died in August 1991, but not before gaining recognition as the greatest motorcycle manufacturer in the world.