4 Crucial Lessons From the Founder of Honda to Create a Company That’ll Succeed
I’ve never been a fan of cars. I still don’t even own a driver’s license at 30. Yet, I can’t deny I am amazed by all the founders of automobile companies.
Their creations revolutionized the world. Without cars, most of us would never have had the opportunity to go further than a few kilometers away from our homes.
One founder I find incredible was Soichiro Honda, the founder of the Japanese car manufacturer Honda, currently the sixth-largest automobile company in the world. In the current top 10 manufacturers, it’s the most recently founded automobile company that isn’t from China.
Soichiro Honda was a great businessman and his beliefs were what helped the company take off. Here are a few lessons we should all learn from him.
Don’t Hire People You Understand
My previous company’s management was awful. In my three years there, they cut everybody who had different opinions than them and hired others that would follow directives without questioning anything.
One day, the company announced they would start paying overtime hours. A month later, when they were supposed to pay it, they pulled back saying they weren’t expecting that many hours. One manager stood up for his subordinates and got fired the next day.
Guess what happened. Every “low-level” department began feeling dissatisfied and not listened to.
It kept happening later for other aspects. Whenever someone would give a new idea or concept to try, the management didn’t listen to it for a moment. Despite its hard-working employees, the company is now struggling more and more, closing offices and losing clients.
If you hire only those people you understand, the company will never get people better than you are. Always remember that you often find outstanding people among those you don’t particularly like. — Soichiro Honda
It may be hard to take in employees you don’t fully understand, but these are the people that can help innovate a company. As long as you’ll try to keep everything under control, your company won’t be able to grow. Give it enough time and it may even crumble.
Success is Mostly Failure
While it may be easy to find how to build a car from scratch today, that wasn’t the case in the 30s. Before creating Honda, Soichiro Honda had another company called Tōkai Seiki that made piston rings. After many failures, they finally got a contract with Toyota…before losing it due to poor quality.
It didn’t deter Honda who kept improving his skills and learning more about engineering. Skip forward to 1964 and Honda had become the world’s largest motorcycle manufacturer. And the company still is at the top to this day!
I saw such patterns often in Japan when I worked helping French SMEs find partners to export in Japan. The companies that built the strongest partnerships were always the ones that struggled at first but didn’t give up. Some of them are now in every cosmetic department store in Japan.
Instead of being afraid of the challenge and failure, be afraid of avoiding the challenge and doing nothing. — Soichiro Honda
Your company can only grow if it faces challenges. Nothing great was ever accomplished with ease. It took efforts and often way more tries than we’d like to believe. Learn from each failure and you’ll have all the more tools to make your company’s journey brighter.
Reflect on Everything, Even What Hurts
Going forward, through the challenges, may often be the solution but that alone can’t be enough to improve much.
When Soichiro Honda lost his partnership with Toyota due to low-quality piston rings, he reflected and took steps to improve them. He attended engineering school — without graduating — and went around Japan to visit factories and better understand Toyota’s quality control processes. By 1941, his quality was considered acceptable enough.
This was what a company I worked for, in China, did as well when they first entered the country. They tried to sell the same software to manage R&D data to clients in China but it didn’t sell well-enough at first. That’s why they reflected on the needs present there and tailored the software to be able to use it as a CRM. This helped the company get started on the ground and later sell their original software — tailored to the market — as well.
The value of life can be measured by how many times your soul has been deeply stirred. — Soichiro Honda
It may be hard to face challenges and look at your company’s flaws, but that’s the solution to creating a stronger and more adaptative company. No great company was ever built instantly into what it is today. Netflix started offline. Amazon started as an online bookstore.
They grew because they reflected and adapted.
Concentration is the Root of Success
Soichiro Honda’s passion for machinery started when he first saw a car pass by his village. He never forgot the smell of oil. He later went to Tokyo and worked as a car mechanic for 6 years, from 15 years old to 22, and went back home to create his own company.
He was so passionate he could not stop working, even when his mother called him to eat. For years on end, he focused on getting better, losing track of all the rest. The fact that he thought he had already learned the skills he needed may also have been one of the reasons he didn’t finish his engineering degree.
I’ve also noticed that in my own language-learning journey. It’s because I’ve learned to get lost in the language I learn that I’ve become a polyglot speaking 6 languages. When I play a game in Korean or read a book in Japanese, it takes a lot of effort to pull me away.
“I let no one disturb my concentration […] Even hunger could not disturb me.” — Soichiro Honda
Too often, we believe collaboration is the only requirement to a company’s success. That’s why day after day we spend hours in pointless meetings that barely serve any purpose. Collaboration matters but only if you can also spend long and regular hours working on tasks.
The “Japanese Henry Ford”, Soichiro Honda, dedicated his entire life to automobiles and machinery as a whole.
The legacy he left behind is proof of the importance of his beliefs about what it takes to grow a company.
Are there enough people you can’t understand in your company? Are failures frowned upon internally? Is your company focusing on the future without looking at its past? Are the employees never able to focus alone?
If the answer to any of those is “yes”, you might want to consider changing a few things.
If you can change all the answers to a “no”, you’re on your way to creating a magnificent company.