Sunday, May 1, 2011

Entrepreneur #1 - Soichiro Honda; an individualist in a nation that prized conformists

The son of a village blacksmith, Honda was exposed to bicycles when they were brought into his father’s shop for repair. He had only a primary school education, but showed a striking aptitude for both engineering and business. Before starting the Honda Motor Company to make motorized bicycles in postwar Japan, he had already built up two successful businesses, one supplying piston rings to Toyota, and another making propellers for the Japanese air force.
Soichiro Honda, some time around 1964 (judging from the bike.) Although he was really more of an engineer than an entrepreneur, he had two great business instincts. One of these was that he knew when to get out of the way; he retired in 1973, in his 60s, even though he could have remained at his company's helm indefinitely. Even more important, he knew how to delgate...
...leaving the day-to-day operations of the company in the hands of Takeo Fujisawa, who has joint custody of my greatest-motorcycle-entrepreneur-of-all-time honorific. Arigato, Honda-san and Fujisawa-san.
Mr. Honda was anything but a typical Japanese businessman. A rugged individualist, he refused to participate in the “keiretsu” alliances between companies, which typically gave big banks a strong influence in business decisions. When virtually all Japanese motorbikes had noisy, smelly two-stroke motors he decided to make a four-stroke. That typified a willingness to plan and invest for long-term success even if it meant ignoring prevailing “wisdom.” One of the motorcycles that benefited from that insight was the Super Cub step-through. It was introduced in 1958 and is still produced almost unmodified today. Honda recently sold the 50 millionth Super Cub, making it the best selling vehicle of all time.

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