Tuesday, August 5, 2014

DRIVING HONDA by Jeffrey Rothfeder

DRIVING HONDA by Jeffrey Rothfeder may, at first hearing, seem to be a long winded advertisement for Honda Motors. After all, there is a long list of accomplishments made, including how Honda has become the most profitable car company, making the most number of engines in the world…which in turn last longer on the road than any other manufacturer, while meeting stringent air quality and gas mileage standards. But then comes the philosophy of Soichiro Honda himself, an enigmatic but perceptive man who embraced paradox, hands-on knowledge, and individualism. How did he achieve what he did? The managerial style of Honda is the answer. The audiobook, narrated by Mel Foster, lays out a unique path taken by Honda from the beginning. Unlike American car companies, and even other Japanese companies like Toyota, Honda sought to decentralize their operations, using localization strategy. They chose a tiny town in Alabama for their first factory here, shunning MBAs and media types for their leaders, and focusing on engineers. They encourage debate and experimentation. And they spend more on research and development than any other car company. Hence, the subtitle of this audiobook: “Inside the World’s Most innovative Car Company.” Rothfeder has done his research in investigating the histories and work ethics of those behind “The Honda Way,” and concludes with an examination of free trade, tariffs, and globalization. Business leaders would be well advised to listen to this, as it shows how and why finding the cheapest workers for one’s company by going overseas doesn’t always work (as many who did so in China are now leaving as China’s wages rise), and that Honda’s strategy of becoming integrated within the culture of whatever they are, while not imposing control from an ivory tower halfway around the world, is the most innovative and flexible of survival techniques. “Success can be achieved only through repeated failure and introspection. In fact, success represents one percent of your work, which results only from the ninety-nine percent that is called failure.” Sounds like something Michael Jordan might have said, but this is Soichiro Honda speaking, the Michael Jordan of the manufacturing world…an area far more important to world economies and standards of living than is sports. AUDIOBOOK OF THE MONTH. (Note: see also Station Eleven by Emily Mandel, another Audiobook of the Month, under Emily Mandel interview label.)

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