Akio Morita, Co-Founder of Sony Corporation

Akio Morita, Co-Founder of Sony Corporation

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Akio Morita (盛田昭夫) was the co-founder of Sony Corporation with his friend Masaru Ibuka. As a leader of Sony, He changed the accepted marketing concepts and focussed on brand-name identification and brand responsibility - a concept widely used today but virtually unheard of then. By insisting on producing high quality products with cutting edge technology, Morita transformed the reputation of the Japanese technology industry so that it became associated with superior quality rather than inexpensive copies. As he himself said, "[They] made Sony the Cadillac of electronics."

Background.
Morita Akio,was born in January 26, 1921 in Tokoname, Aichi, Japan. in 1944 he graduated from Osaka Imperial University with a degree in physics. He later joined the IJN (navy) during World War II. During his service, Morita met his future partner and the most important friend in all his life, Masaru Ibuka, in the Navy's Wartime Research Committee.

On May 7, 1946, Morita and Ibuka founded Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, the forerunner to Sony Corporation) with about 20 employees.

In 1949, the company developed magnetic recording tape and in 1950. In 1957, it produced a pocket-sized radio and in 1958 Morita and Ibuka made the decision to rename their company Sony (sonus is Latin for sound, and Sonny-boys is Japanese slang for "whiz kids"). Morita was an advocate for all the products made by the Sony Corporation. In 1960 it produced the first transistor television in the world. In 1979 the Walkman was introduced, making it the world's first portable music player. In 1984 Sony launched the Discman series which extended their Walkman brand to portable CD products.

In 1960, the Sony Corporation of America was established in the United States. In 1961, the Sony Corporation of America was the first Japanese company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Sony bought Columbia Records and other CBS labels in 1988 and Columbia Pictures in 1989.

On November 25, 1994, Morita announced his resignation as Sony chairman, after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while playing tennis.

Arts of leadership
Akio could be called Spiritual leader of Sony, while in charge in the areas of marketing, globalization, finance and human resources, Akio shows great leadership. Unlike other businessmen who change hostile to former partner, like John D Rockefeller, It’s Morita Akio and Masaru Ibuka’s friendship paved the way for Sony. —Ibuka the engineering fiddler, taking gadgets apart on the floor of his office to see how they worked; Morita the sleek manager, scion of an old sake-brewing family, friend of the great and good on three continents.

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The men had very different styles, but they complemented each other. "In good times and bad, we were always together," the wife of an ailing Morita said on his behalf at Ibuka's funeral in 1998. Their friendship not only encourage the innovation from Ibuka, who represent the engineer class in Sony Kingdom, but also show good example to all employee in Sony, encourage them to cooperate together for the same goal.

Back to 1950’s, the combination worked well. The two sought to provide the best available technology and quality to the consumer. One of Sony's first products was a transistor radio, produced in 1955. While the transistor was developed by Bell Labs and produced by Western Electric, it was Sony that first used it for a small pocket radio, in 1957, creating a new market in the bargain.

When facing this opportunity, Morita showed his brilliant innovation, as important as Ibuka’s, in marketing. He helped sell his new radio by claiming that it was "pocket sized" and had the ability to fit in a normal shirt pocket. However, the radio was slightly too big to fit in a shirt pocket, so Morita made his business men wear shirts with slightly larger pockets giving the radio a "pocket sized" appearance. And his eloquence helps his objective, “On that first visit to Sony, Ibuka and Morita took me through their factories and their research labs. Just as Land had predicted, I was amazed by what I saw. Indeed, I felt I had seen the future. I had seen how innovations in product markets, technology, and manufacturing would come to revolutionize the consumer goods industry.” A former Sony’s employee told his story. By establish confidence among his market salesmen, Morita’s tactic got success, The TR-63 of 1957 cracked open the U.S. market and launched the new industry of consumer microelectronics." By the mid 1950s, American teens had begun buying portable transistor radios in huge numbers, helping to propel the fledgling industry from an estimated 100,000 units in 1955 to 5,000,000 units by the end of 1968.

The radio's success led to more firsts in transistorized products, such as an 8-in. television and a videotape recorder. Sony's technological achievements in product design, production and marketing helped change the image of made in Japan from a notion of cheap imitations to one associated with superior quality. In Morita's own words, they made Sony the Cadillac of electronics.

Morita made an important decision in 1959, as he planed, Sony should embrace the globalization. In 1960, Sony Corporation of America was established in the United States. Morita decided to move to the U.S. with his family and took the lead in creating new sales channels for the company. He believed that Sony should develop its own direct sales channels, rather than rely on local dealers. And that be proved as a wise decision, from then Sony can raise funds from free market, comparing to other Japanese cooperation who used to Bank’s loan, Morita’s decision gave Sony great advantage, more important, Sony changed their image from then, as Morita said, “Sony is made in USA”

In order to lead the company to the success in new environment, Akio Morita had done what was unthinkable for a Japanese executive at that time: He had moved with his wife Yoshiko and their children to New York in order to immerse himself in the American environment. He wanted to learn everything he could about American business, consumers, and culture. He and Yoshiko plunged themselves into every aspect of American life from business to politics, media, the arts, and the education of their kids. This seminal experience made him a genuine expert on American life and was incredibly valuable to him throughout his career. With his encourage, Sony Americanlized rapidly, they hire American as managers, Peter G. Peterson Chairman of The Blackstone Group recalled “Akio Morita asked us to help Sony make its major acquisitions in the U.S., beginning with the highly successful CBS Records business. Akio took another unprecedentedly global-minded step. He asked me to serve on Sony Corporation’s board of directors as the first ever foreign, outside director of a major Japanese corporation. Indeed, even today, foreign directors are extremely rare. Again, given my respect and gratitude, I could scarcely say no to Akio, even though it meant resigning from U.S. boards on which I had long served, such as 3M, to avoid competitive conflicts.”

With all theses efforts, American customer recognized this brand, although at same time they remember a Japanese face.

As Sony grew internationally, Morita expanded his vision. The new concept was "Think globally, act locally" — that is, having a common value system that transcends national objectives; serve international customers, shareholders and employees, regardless of the origin of the company. He had tremendous insights that related to the global economy and to issues far beyond the parochial interests of Japan. He was a vigorous exponent of globalization and understood probably better than anyone that it was going to be a way of life. Under his formulation of global localization, multinational companies should strive to manufacture and create jobs in local markets, transfer technology and skills, defend the environment, and otherwise contribute as good corporate citizens building up local and regional economies around the world. Sony, under his leadership and today, is an exemplar in these areas. He spoke of “cooperative competition” between companies. His thinking on this subject helped lay the philosophical basis for many of today’s partnerships between companies that are also competitors.

In business, Akio shows an irrepressible energy. He moved quickly from one business and policy topic to another, and moved fast physically from situation to situation.

In daily life, Akio’s memory and friendly smile impresses every employee and “Even though I knew Akio well at this point, and knew a lot about his wide range of business and social contacts, it was impressive nonetheless to see that he knew virtually every American CEO in the club house that day. I don’t mean he recognized them, I mean he knew them personally and by name, and went up to chat with them as if it were the most natural thing in the world to be running into them.”

Reference:
1, Time 100: Akio Morita
2, Sony Corporation of America: Akio Morita Biography
3, Akio Morita-Wikipedia
4, Time: Asian Heroes, Akio Morita & Masaru Ibuka
5, The Man Who Made Sony
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