What do dreams mean to you? As years go by and times change, many may find themselves spending their days without dreams to pursue. This spring, Toshihiro Mibe enters his third year as Honda President. He seeks transformation, and continues to pursue his dream. Mibe’s true feelings and personality provide a glimpse into “The Power of Dreams” in the coming era.
Why did you join Honda?
When I was a student, I first drove a car from another company, but after that I bought a new Ballard Sport CR-X, a two-seater, lightweight sports car weighing only about 800kg. Of course it drove well, but what impressed me was the evolution of the car, as it had many features I had never seen before. For example, there were ducts in the roof through which air was sucked in and released through the driver's seat, and resin bumpers that could return to their original shape even if they were dented. There was also a system called Miyoshi Suspension, named after the developer. I began to view Honda as an interesting company. At the time, I was not thinking of working for an automobile company, but I joined Honda because I imagined that a company that made such an interesting car must be fun to work at.
Were you able to do the fun job you imagined?
I did not have a clear idea of what I wanted to do at Honda, but at the time Formula 1 was at its peak. Since I had attended an engine research lab at university, I was assigned to R&D in Wako, where I knew I wanted to work on F1. The personnel manager told me that I could do F1 research, but my manager said, "Honda does not making a living from racing. The future is with the environment," and I was assigned to research exhaust gas purification systems. Environmental technology is now common, but at the time, the top priority for engines was to produce power, so I felt uncomfortable, finding difficulty in coming to terms with the concept of environmental technology.
So your first assignment was not what you expected. But, the words of Winston Churchill*1 kept you going on?
I admire and respect Churchill for his ability to make the right decisions in the face of adversity and succeed. He was a hero who won the war, but lost the election the year it ended. I like Churchill because of his dramatic life.
“Kites rise highest against the wind, not with it.”
This is a Churchill quote I am very fond of, which describes the positive attitude needed in facing adversity. I think it matches the times we are now living in.
*1 Winston Churchill (1874 - 1965)
Served as the 61st and 63rd Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. Became Prime Minister in 1940 during World War II and led the fight against Nazi Germany. Contributed to the allies’ victory alongside the United States and the Soviet Union, and developed a postwar vision. Lost the 1945 election to the Labor Party. After the war, he returned as prime minister in 1951 to rebuild the country.
Looking back at the past two years as Honda president, what are your thoughts?
Honda has made a major shift towards electrification, but there is only so much that can be done in two years. I think it is going well to date. We have taken the necessary steps over the past two years, so I think we will be able to achieve reasonable results. The evaluation will be made when our products and services are released, so until then, we will just keep on moving forward without much reflection. We don't know what the right answers are, and if it doesn't work out, we will take the next step.
Since becoming president you have been promoting “transformation.” Are there changes in the company or its associates over the past two years?
We have declared that Honda will shift from engines to zero-emission vehicles such as EVs and fuel cell vehicles, and I think the impact of this transformation has been significant for a company that has excelled at engines. It is difficult to digest and understand what being told to abandon engines means, as engines are our strength. Nonetheless, I realized that the company is moving toward real transformation when I visited the U.S. a few months ago. If we can accelerate this movement, I believe we can create new mobility and other products and services that will be our winning move in the next generation, and we can once again lead the world.
What do you think are your advantages and know-how that you, as an engineer, are able to bring to the table?
I don't consider that my background in engineering is too relevant. However, I am confident in my technical judgment. For example, there are many carbon-neutral technologies, including fuel cells and EVs, that have a wide range of possibilities. However, each technology has different importance and roles, such as those that will be mainstream and those that fill in the gaps. They all have their own advantages and disadvantages. As an engineer, I can understand such differences, and believe in my ability to organize the various combinations of technologies and options to advance our response to the new era.
What are your thoughts for the Honda associates involved in research and development now?
Since I have been in R&D for more than 30 years, I know the power of research and development, and I am confident that we can compete with the changing times and make it into what we are aiming for. When I was young, there was an atmosphere at Honda that if you were not the best in the world, you would not be recognized. The goal of being the best in the world is still the same, so I hope Honda engineers will engage in research and development in the spirit of leading the world.
Why did you redefine Honda’s global brand slogan “The Power of Dreams” now?
When I became president, I initially wanted to clarify who we were and what we were aiming for, but it would be a bad idea to define slogans and purposes while neglecting practical matters, so we prioritized areas such as electrification, and digitalization including software. In a little over a year, we had taken all the practical steps we needed to take, and we declared that we were in our second founding period. We then decided to redefine what we were aiming for and the value we were offering. Since the environment, safety, digitalization, and software are only means to an end, the management team discussed the global brand slogan, which is a higher-level concept, and redefined it after listening to a wide range of opinions, such as our younger associates.
What did Honda associates think when redefining the global brand slogan?
I was intrigued that many seasoned as well as younger associates felt that "The Power of Dreams" was the most convincing slogan. Many of them said that it was better than creating a new phrase, and that its meaning, our pursuit of our dreams, creating products powered by our dreams, and ultimately providing our customers with dreams, is better. This slogan was well received by people outside the company, and I was told by many people that Honda has a wonderful slogan, and that it brings them joy. So, we decided to keep "The Power of Dreams" but redefined it, including its interpretation to match our modern times which have changed since the 2000s when the original slogan was created.
What do you mean by redefinition?
Giving form to the dreams we want to achieve and who we want to be, allows us to communicate this form to our customers, in turn becoming their dreams. We therefore added "How we move you." after "The Power of Dreams” We also decided it would be better to clarify the value we offer, so we defined three keywords "create", "transcend", and "augment". All of our associates will now think together about what exactly we will offer. Now that we have a clear direction to aim for, we can share this globally, interpret it, embrace it, and move forward.
Do you think that by associates and others understanding the redefined slogan, Honda’s transformation can be accelerated?
Many companies talk about their purpose as what value they provide to their customers, but this Honda slogan represents the importance of having our own dreams, and communicating these dreams to our customers. We believe that if each associate’s dream is combined with Honda's value, we can provide outstanding products and services.
What are your dreams and passions for the future?
We want to once again create a company that people want to exist. I want to lay the foundation for our second founding period, including setting the company on its next growth trajectory, and pass the baton to the next generation. Ultimately, my goal as president is to make Honda a company where customers say, "I am glad Honda exists!" or "Honda did it again!” That is what I am aiming for.
However, I use the term "dream", because it is not enough to simply do what is obvious. Some may ask what a dream is, but I believe the source of such new value comes from each and every associate dreaming of what they can make, or do, a reality. Companies need to consider business feasibility and investment efficiency, but that alone will not create new value. I want all employees to put their heads together once again and think about their own dreams, and use that as a starting point to create value for our customers.
What do dreams mean to you?
Dreams are dreams, because they are unfulfilled. I do not have small dreams that can be easily achieved. The bigger the dream, the better, and I believe that the greatest value is in realizing the biggest unattainable dreams. In my life at Honda, there are some dreams that I have challenged and realized. But when one dream comes true, the next one appears, so perhaps it would be better to say that there is no end to my dreams. The only time I feel a sense of accomplishment in fulfilling a dream is when I share am enjoyable drink with a colleague. And, after that, we move on to tackling the next dream. That is my life.