In September 1959, the one-story motorcycle showroom on Pico Boulevard in west Los Angeles didn't look like the headquarters of what would become a major U.S. automaker. The apartment that Kihachiro Kawashima, American Honda Motor Co.'s general manager, shared with two subordinates wasn't anything to brag about either.
"We were so strapped for cash that the three of us shared a furnished apartment that rented for $80 a month," Kawashima later told author Richard Pascale. "Two of us slept on the floor."
Pascale's 1984 book, Perspectives on Strategy: The Real Story Behind Honda's Success, cited Kawashima's ability to learn and change course as the key factor in the success of American Honda. His experience marketing motorcycles in America represented an early, crucial turning point for the company, Pascale concluded.
Honda was pinched because Toyota had flopped in the United States the year before. After the underpowered, underengineered Toyota Toyopet car proved inadequate for American roads, Japan's Ministry of International Trade and Industry refused to let Honda take more than $110,000 cash and $140,000 worth of motorcycles and parts out of the country.
If mighty Toyota had failed in America, the ministry urged, Honda should stick to Japan.