Soichiro Honda (1906 – 1991)

Born    : November 17, 1906 in Hamamatsu, Japan

Died    : August 5, 1991 (aged 84) in Japan

Occupation      :  Founder, Honda Motor Company Limited


Throughout his life, Soichiro Honda never forgot the day when he ran hopelessly after the first motor car he ever saw. Long before the car actually reached Yamahigashi, a small village in Japan’s Shizuoka province (now called Tenryu-shi), its own extraordinary noise announced its imminent arrival.The small boy who heard the rumble was at first astonished, then excited, and finally enthralled, by it.

Later he would describe that moment as one of those life-changing experiences. He began to tremble as the car came closer to him. Then, he turned and chased after that car as much as he could. “I could not understand how it could move under its own power. And when it had driven past me, without even thinking why I found myself chasing it down the road, as hard as I could run.”

He had no chance of catching it, and the experience became a symbol for his life: always he was chasing something that was just beyond his reach. He had always remembered a 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.” By the time the road was empty and the car long departed, the young boy continued to stand there breathing in its gasoline stench. When he came upon a drop of its precious lifeblood spilled on the dusty track, he dropped his knees and sniffed the oily stain like a man in a desert smelling water. This was a scene that later changed the course of world’s motor industry.

Honda’s spirit of adventure and determination to explore the development of new technology had its roots in his childhood. The family was not wealthy, but his father Gihei Honda instilled into his children the ethic of hard work, and a love of mechanical things. Soichiro soon learned how to whet the blades of farm machinery, and how to make his own toys. A nearby rice mill was powered by H small engine, and the noise fascinated him. He would demand daily that his grandfather took him to watch it in action. At school he got the nickname ‘black nose weasel, which is less derogatory in Japanese than it sounds in English, because his face was always dirty from helping his father in the workshop. Once he even forged his family’s seal using a bicycle pedal rubber on school report that were not up to the mark!

In 1917 a pilot called Art Smith flew into the Wachiyama military air field hr demonstrate his biplane’s aerobatic capabilities. Honda took the family’s poly cash box, borrowed one of his father’s bicycles and rode the 20 kilometer to a place he had never before visited. When he got there he soon realized the price of admission, let alone a flight, was far beyond his means, but after climbing a tree he watched the plane in motion, and that was enough. When Gihei learned what his son had done to get to the airfield, he was not angry with his son for taking the money and the bike. Rather he was more impressed will, initiative, determination and resilience.


Honda enjoyed racing, and set a speed record in 1936. At age 17, he won II, Chairman’s trophy riding alongside his boss under whom he worked as a mechanic. He suffered in a bad crash, breaking several bones including both wrists, and was persuaded by his wife to give up racing. Honda thereafter concentrated on his business, and in 1937 he moved into piston-ring manufacture, setting up Tokai Seiki Heavy Industry (TSHI). In 1948 Honda had sold TSHI to Toyota for 450,000 yen (worth about $1 million)

In 1948 Honda began producing motorcycles as president of the Hondo Corporation. Honda Motor Co. Ltd. initially built small capacity motorcycles to gel Japanese workers moving. While Honda focused his considerable energies on the engineering side, using all the experience he had painstakingly accumulated and left the running of the company in the hands of Takeo Fujisawa, his most trusted friend and urged him to look to the long-term.

They complemented one another perfectly. When the first fruits of their partnership hit the streets it was a 98 cc two-stroke motorcycle appropriately named “Dream”. Honda turned the company into a billion-dollar multinational that produced the best-selling motorcycle and resulted in Honda motorcycles out-selling other brands in the respective home markets. In 1959 Honda Motorcycles opened its first dealership in the United States.

Soichiro Honda was the prototypical F1 engineer. He was always probing new limits of technology, always seeking better and greater feedback from the men who rode or drove the machines that bore his name. He reasoned that ambition was no sin, and that success was the reward for hard work and investment. Honda was the first major manufacturer to understand that motor sport was the perfect miscible in which to develop not just superior machines, but superior engineers, aid today every global player in the Fl game rotates its engineers through its motor sport programs.


He followed the Japanese saying that said, “if you hire those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among ‘hose you don’t particularly like.” He is also the author of the famous quote, “success represents one per cent of your work which results from the 99 percent that is called failure. Success can only be achieved through repeated failure and introspection.”

He died in 1991 from liver failure. At the age of twenty, Mr. Honda was called up for military service but he was, medically examined and found to be color blind. Thanks to this diagnosis because he managed to avoid spending any time in the military. He was not just admired for his ability to repair machines, but gave free rein to his talent as an inventor, later earning the title “the Edison of Hamamatsu” and starting to do all kinds of work that went far beyond the narrow bounds of a repair workshop. Today, Honda Motor Company is one of the largest and most successful automobile manufacturers in the world. This evolution came about because of one man, Soichiro Honda. As he rightly put it “Action without philosophy is a lethal weapon; Philosophy without action is worthless”: Needless to say, he had both in the right measure and in perfect balance.

Soichiro Honda (1906 – 1991)
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