While I am an avid reader of business-books, I had never heard of this book and it was quite by chance that I even picked it up. And am glad I did. Driving Honda by Jeffrey Rothfeder is a fabulous read.
It starts off from the founder Soichiro Honda and his passion for everything mechanical and how he got Honda to where it is through all the ups and downs. From there it looks at the culture, the kind of people they employ, what is their approach to various aspects and beautiful nuggets of Honda that I had no idea about. The story of how the founder found an able partner to work with was inspirational as well.
The concept of waigaya - deserves an explanation by itself - is about how Honda is so much of a bottom up organization - this was one great piece which I loved. (more about this in a later post - as this is one of the things which has come up in many of the recent works which I have handled). The process ensures a lot of disagreement, debate and resolution and they have rules. The books has a lot of examples of how this has worked for Honda. And wherever a problem happens, waigaya is the first thing they resort to. And it ensures that every small idea that emanates from the floor is heard and taken forward as appropriate.
The other things - which are fairly common in Japanese companies - like Gen-ba, Gen-butsu and Gen-jitsu and 'Sangen Shugi' are also touched upon. And all of these are principles worth knowing by any company.
There is a bit of a bonus on Charles Handy and the Sigmoid curve. The story of the design of the Ridgeline - was a lovely story.
It between it also takes examples of other companies - which to me - felt like a distraction.
What I understood about Honda is that it is a fairly contrarian company - and it does many things in a different way because it believes that this is the right way to do it regardless of the way the market looks at it. It remains one of the automakers where R&D exists as a separate function. It remains at lower automation levels than its rivals. And so on.
As a company if you are doing everything like the competition - what is the point? That was a significant takeaway. And apart from that what makes this book a must read - whether you run a start up or a retail firm or a technology firm - is that there is much to learn from Hondas as a company which has thrived in many environments around the globe and continues to learn and perform in virtually every market it has been part of. And how does a company survive across generations - what better way to learn from a company that is doing it day in and day out.