Interesting article about Honda @ Forbes… At American auto companies, finance guys and marketers rise to the top. Not at Honda…
Of all the bizarre subsidiaries that big companies can find themselves with, Harmony Agricultural Products, founded and owned by Honda Motor, is one of the strangest. This small company near Marysville, Ohio produces soybeans for tofu. Soybeans? Honda couldn’t brook the sight of the shipping containers that brought parts from Japan to its nearby auto factories returning empty. So Harmony now ships 33,000 pounds of soybeans to Japan. An inveterate tinkerer, Honda also set up a center nearby to develop better soybean varieties and improve agricultural processes.
This is from a company that sold 21 million internal combustion engines for cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers and boats last year. But there’s nothing Honda (nyse: HMC – news – people ) hates more than waste, and there is nothing Honda likes more than an engineering problem. Indeed, how else to explain why Honda has studied the maddeningly evasive cockroach (for anticollision technology), decoded the rice genome (to increase crop yields and create more-productive crops for biofuels) and developed a robot that can get instructions by reading human brain waves (to learn how machines and humans can better coexist).
Longtime auto analyst John Casesa, who now runs a consulting company, says, “There’s not a company on earth that better understands the culture of engineering.”
The strategy has worked thus far. Honda has never had an unprofitable year. It has never had to lay off employees. In the fiscal year that ended in March, profit grew 12%, to $5.1 billion, on $84 billion in sales. In the U.S., which accounts for 43% of Honda’s sales, vehicle sales are up 7% through July, even as the industry slipped 5%. The company sold more vehicles in July than one member of the old Big Three, the Chrysler Group.