What were the 80s like for business?

It's 50 years since MT was first published, so we've trawled the archives to bring you some gems from times gone by. The second in our series: 1981-85.

by Adam Gale
Last Updated: 09 Jun 2016

Honda's performance problems

MT has always had a knack of getting industry titans to open up. In 1981, editor Bob Heller asked the legendary Soichiro Honda about his decision to retire, aged 66. The motorcycle and car boss began much as one would expect. 'I know what I can't do. Today automobiles require automation and I am too old to study computers.' But Honda moved onto more personal ground. 'I have lost my sex power. I won't say I have lost all my sex, but I must admit that frequency of doing and recovery have not been the same as when I was young. Great leaders love sex, and I am not a great leader any more.' He wasn't finished. 'I can't drink any more, either. Two cups of sake is enough. Presidents should be able to drink more ... without sex power, drinking habits and work desire, I should quit the life of an entrepreneur.' Best retirement speech ever?

The business accessory of the day

MT readers have always been up with the latest trends, as this ad from September 1984 shows. Yes, in 20 years' time people may be saying much the same about the iPhone, but that doesn't mean we can't laugh at the ultimate in 80s business accessories - the PDA, or personal digital assistant. It was billed as the world's first pocket microcomputer, and combined a calculator with a diary and searchable address book. Who needs a Filofax anyway?

Made in Japan

'It was a colossal blunder for Western multinationals to neglect the Japanese market for so long, enabling the world's second largest economy to develop behind a wall of import barriers virtually undisturbed,' MT wrote in July 1985. Sound familiar? Unlike China now, 80s Japan was fully open to trade. The problem was that its businesses were more competitive. And Western firms lacked cultural understanding: 'One large US company launched a major marketing campaign for cake mix in Japan without realising that almost no Japanese homes contain ovens. Foreign appliance makers have repeatedly tried to sell refrigerators which are too large to go through the door of a Japanese house.'

Go west

The 80s were the start of the personal computer age, declared MT in October 1982. The Silicon Valley entrepreneur (such as Steve Jobs, left) was the cultural hero of materialist America. 'It's no longer the loners and extremists who come to California to found their own firms; it's the clever, the able, those who have been termed the young visionaries of capitalism.' However the very people you wanted in an expanding tech company were the entrepreneurial sorts who'd leave to set up their own business. It meant companies 'have had to go to equally unprecedented lengths to construct a corporate culture into which the self-willed individuals can happily fit'. The beginning of the bean bag office? You read it here first.

Predictions – An 80s view of future technology

The internet 'Networks: another market of the future. The next logical step after hardware manufacturers have put a computer on every desk (the aim for the 80s) is to make it possible for computers to talk to each other.' October 1982

Cybercrime 'For criminals, the computer may be either a playpen or a cookie jar - a rich source of gratification or profit, depending on inclination... without senior management's awareness and commitment to understanding and eradicating the causes, computer-related crime will rapidly become the major criminal activity of the 1990s.' December 1984

Cable 'Cablevision has not only created a whole new set of problems for the motion picture industry. It may well become a serious challenge to the cinema and conventional broadcasting; some observers even think it may even threaten the future of both.' October 1981

The limits of microcomputers 'The microcomputer (those costing between £100 and £50,000) may not move beyond 32-bit processors, but it will certainly make more efficient use of them... routine functions such as accounts, invoicing, stock control, payroll etc will be carried out by the mainframe, as will the compilation of databases.' December 1981

Credits: Pierre Clement/AFP, Ted Thai/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images, Shinypix/Alamy Stock Photo

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