Takeo Fujisawa Joins Honda / 1949

Chapter 1

Takeo Fujisawa was born on November 10, 1910, in Koishikawa-ku (now Bunkyo-ku), Tokyo, as the eldest son of Hideshiro Fujisawa and his wife Yuki. After a series of jobs in banking and other sectors, his father Shushiro had become the manager of the Jitsueisha, a publicity company that made slide commercials for display at movie theaters.


Soichiro Honda (left) and Takeo Fujisawa shown at the time they first combined their talents and shared their dreams.

In 1923, when the young Fujisawa was in his first year at Kyoka Middle School, the Great Kanto Earthquake dealt the whole family a terrible blow. The Jitsueisha was destroyed and the elder Fujisawa was left with nothing but borrowed money to live on. Later he planned to revive the movie industry but the tremendous efforts he had made after the disaster had wrecked his health and he became an invalid. The young Fujisawa hoped to became a teacher buts failed the official Tokyo school examinations and worked as a professional copyist, writing addresses on envelopes in order to support the family and devoting his leisure time to reading literature. When we see how successful the Takeo Fujisawa was in his later life it is difficult to imagine what a shy young man and poor speaker he was in his early years.

In 1930, he was called up for military service and after a year in the army he resumed his work as a copyist. Fujisawa’s first permanent employment started in September 1934 when he was twenty-three years old. He worked for the Mitsuwa Shokai, a company in Hatchobori, Nihombashi, Tokyo, a dealer of steel products, Fujisawa was employed as a traveling salesman, visiting small factories to promote the Mitsuwa Shokai’s steel products. When asked why he had chosen this particular job when his interpersonal skills were so weak, his only reply was that he had felt an intuition that this was the path he should follow. His hidden talent suddenly blossomed and he gradually developed relationships with a range of new clients, becoming the company’s top-performing salesman. He adopted the slogan "Always tell your clients the truth" and if ever it looked as though a delivery was going to be late, he would not try to make up excuses but would apologize and give an honest explanation of the reason for the delay. In this way he could turn a problem to his advantage, because his clients came to trust him all the more. By always offering a solution as well as apologizing, he made sure that the relationship of trust was preserved. This episode in Fujisawa’s life gives a strong impression of his character and exhibits just the same attitude as he showed later in his career.

In order to operate successfully in the steel business, with its frequent and violent price changes, one needs to have an ability to speculate the market. Through nine years’ experience of this very demanding work, Fujisawa had assimilated the necessary skills. When the president of the Mitsuwa Shokai was called away for military duty, Fujisawa took over the management of the company.

Eventually, Fujisawa started to feel constrained by the limitations of working as a middle-man. While looking after the affairs of the Mitsuwa Shokai, he started making plans for an independent future, and in 1939 established the Nippon Kiko Kenkyujo, a company manufacturing cutting tools. Because of his lack of technical knowledge, Fujisawa at first experienced considerable difficulties and it took three years before he managed to start manufacturing in April 1942. Just at that time the president of the Mitsuwa Shokai, Kiyoshi Machida, returned from military service, enabling Fujisawa to leave the company and become an independent entrepreneur. In autumn of the same year, one of Fujisawa’s clients, the Nakajima Aircraft, sent a representative to his factory in Itabashi to inspect his cutting tools. That representative was Hiroshi Takeshima, who was well acquainted with Soichiro Honda of Tokai Seiki. Honda had been supplying the Nakajima Aircraft with piston rings, and it was from Takeshima that Fujisawa first heard about a technical genius by the name of Honda in Hamamatsu. In June 1945, Fujisawa succeeded with great difficulty in escaping air-raid damage and evacuating his factory to Fukushima. Because of delays in securing the necessary permission to use freight wagons, Fujisawa’s machines did not arrive in Fukushima until the day the war ended.

Fujisawa made a quick decision. Because post-war Japan would need timber for construction more than it needed machine tools, he decided to buy up forests in Fukushima and start a building materials business. At the same time, he made up his mind to return one day to Tokyo, the center of the business world. Whenever he had a chance, he would travel to the capital and look out for business opportunities.

In the summer of 1948, Fujisawa travelled to Tokyo to buy parts for his building material machines. He bumped into Takeshima near Ichigaya station and they renewed their acquaintance. It turned out that Takeshima had become a technology official in the Ministry of International Trade and Industry and in the course of their conversation Fujisawa learned that Soichiro Honda had started producing auxiliary engines for bicycles. Takeshima urged Fujisawa to come back to Tokyo.

Fujisawa went down to Fukushima, sold off his machinery at the Nippon Kiko Kenkyujo, closed his factory and returned to Tokyo. He immediately started a timber shop in Ikebukuro as a temporary means of making a living. In summer of the following year, he received a message from Takeshima, suggesting a meeting with Soichiro Honda.

Chapter 2

In August 1949, Messrs. Honda and Fujisawa first met face-to-face through the introduction of their mutual acquaintance, Mr. Takeshima. The Honda Motor Co. had been founded about a year earlier and had just launched its Dream D-Type. Apparently the two men established an understanding of each other at once. Their personalities were completely different and they were skilled in two quite distinct areas of business. Both men were in complete agreement as to why they got on so well: "He’s got what I haven’t got." Mr. Honda was 42 and Mr. Fujisawa was 38. In today’s terms they would still be considered quite young, but both already had a wealth of experience, were possessed of great powers of intuition and insight, and were excellent judges of personality. "They could see what you were thinking in a moment. It was almost scary – like being stripped naked!" said all who worked closely with them.

They were held in awe by everyone who worked for them and observed them at close quarters. "If you were talking to them, there was absolutely no point in putting on an act or trying to bluff your way out of a problem. You couldn’t lie to them. Although they were very different characters, both of them had fantastic insight," everyone agreed.

What developed between them was a very mature relationship of mutual understanding, each man having a clear idea of the other’s ability. But at the same time they were still possessed of the kind of understanding that can exist between younger people, the ability to talk frankly to each other and share their unrealized dreams. Each of them had chosen a business partner who could be relied on whenever risks had to be taken, and neither of them would ever regret their choice.

Soichiro Honda did the making and Takeo Fuijsawa did the selling. These two powerful personalities, neither of whom could manage without the other, made a perfect combination. Their partnership was a supreme example of "the right man in the right place."

Chapter 3

In October 1949, Fujisawa joined the Honda Motor Co., Ltd., as managing director. In November of the same year, despite an ongoing economic downturn, the company carried out its first capital increase, doubling its capitalization to 2 million yen. A quarter of the new money was put up by Fujisawa.

In March 1950, economic conditions grew even more severe but the company expanded its business to Tokyo, opening an office in Maki-cho, Kyobashi, Chuo-ku. Just as cramped and rough-and-ready as the headquarters in Hamamatsu, it was located near the back of the present-day Yaesu Fujiya Hotel and became Fujisawa’s center of operations.

According to the Honda’s Seven-Year History, the period from 1949 to the first half of 1950 "was a terribly difficult time. The economy was getting into a grim state, the market for motorcycles was contracting, our inventory was growing and our working capital was shrinking. Payments to suppliers were in arrears and we had to pay our employees in installments."

Takao Shirai, former senior managing director, described the early days. "I joined Honda in March," he said. "By a stroke of luck I went to talk to Kaichi Kawakami, president of Nippon Gakki (now Yamaha) about getting a job with his company. Kawakami told me that Soichiro Honda, president of the Honda Motor that made the "Bata-Bata" (the nickname for the A-Type engine) had said that he was desperate to find a young man who could work for him as factory manager, and he suggested that I should go and see him. Mr. Kawakami made a telephone call then and there and immediately arranged that I should call on Mr. Honda. I went to a barrack-like building with a shingled roof in front of Hamamatsu Station and chatted with Mr. Honda for a few minutes. ‘Okay, come to work from tomorrow’ he said, and it was all decided. As it happened the next day was the vernal equinox day, which was a national holiday, so I went to work the day after that.

"It was just at the time that the D-Type was doing very badly due to the economic recession and Honda Motor was in big trouble. My colleagues at the plant told me, ‘We get paid late and we’ve only just received some of the pay which was due last month. We’ll go bust any day now.’ But I was young and I threw myself into the job, thinking that although it looked as though we might go bust, if I persevered and helped turn the company around it would be something to be proud of. So I set to work and in June that year the Korean War broke out. In no time at all we received a big order for auxiliary engines thanks to the special procurement boom and the crisis was over. Before I really had to tighten my belt the company started paying wages that had been in arrears," he said laughing.

"So things got busy. Although I was called plant manager, I couldn’t just sit in my armchair. I would rush around getting materials and piling up components on the work benches for the bicycles. One day I tripped and fell at a railway crossing, spraining my ankle, but I got hold of a walking stick and carried on going around the plant, keeping an eye on the supply of parts and the rate of production. Just as I was doing this, the president said that he wanted to have a word with me. ‘I’ve been watching you and I like your attitude to work. If you feel like sticking with Honda, I’ll divide the equity and sell you some of the shares. What do you think?’ Of course, Honda shares at that time were not worth the paper they were printed on. When I went home and told my father about my chat with the president, he advised me that if I was really taken with Honda and had made up my mind to give my all for the company, then he would give me the money to buy the shares. The next day I took the money to the president and he handed me some certificates. Just imagine how I’d feel today if I’d been stupid enough to decide the other way!"

Thanks to the surge in demand caused by the Korean War, the Japanese economy got back on its feet as the American-led U.N. forces commissariat paid in dollars for emergency procurements. Pretty soon the domestic economy revived as well and Honda had time to start thinking about its own recovery. In September 1950 the company succeeded in opening a plant, as well as an office, in Tokyo, buying a sewing machine works in Kami-Jujo, Kita-ku, and converting it into a facility for the manufacture of motorcycle bodies and final assembly. Engines were sent from Hamamatsu and the D-Type was put together in Kita-ku.

In November, Honda himself moved to Tokyo, returning to the capital after an absence of twenty-two years from the time he worked for Art Shokai. The time had come to stop being merely a provincial firm and move to the capital, a whole new world that was free of old-fashioned restraints.