Happy Birthday Akio Morita: The Entrepreneur Who Made Us Enjoy Music On the Go !

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Akio Morita, the co-founder of Sony Corp (TYO: 6758), was known as a flamboyant and aggressive man. His pompous lifestyle, however, did not stop him from pursuing his favourite sports which included scuba diving, skiing, tennis, and windsurfing. Even when he was in his 60s, the man was as agile as a monkey.

“Our plan is to lead the public with new products rather than ask them what kind of products they want. The public does not know what is possible, but we do.”

Akio Morita’s far-sighted vision coupled with hard work and effort made his company reach the zenith of the world market and catered the demands of a common man. Sony has been credited with innovating the impossible. It was the first Japanese company to feature in United States’ stock market and Morita was the first Japanese to build a factory in the US.

Curiosity is the key to Creativity.

With a total strength of 10 employees and 190,000 Yens (Avg. US$160) in investments, two friends Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka founded Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company) on May 7, 1946. This company was later renamed ‘Sony’ in 1960 by Morita.

Full Name: Akio Morita

Born: 26 January, 1921, Nagoya, Japan.

Died: 3 October 1999, Tokyo, Japan.

Net Worth: $1.3 billion.

Today, Sony holds the 47th position in the Forbes list of the World’s Most Valuable Brands 2020 with a market cap of $78.7 billion. Started as an electronics giant, Sony has diverged into financial services, movies, music etc.

Despite the immense success he has achieved, Akio Morita’s story is not all roses. Born in a war-torn country and in a family of Sake Brewers, he was enchanted by the engineering of the phonograph that his father bought when he was a child. Morita decided his destiny was in electronics and not in his family’s business. Convincing his younger brother to take care of the brewery, Morita earned his bachelor’s degree in Physics from Osaka Imperial University and was assigned at Naval Research Centre upon graduation. The first wheel of fortune turned for him when he made an acquaintance with his would-be business partner Masaru Ibaku.

Akio Morita can be regarded as the man who revived Japan’s war trodden economy. His innovations and business methods made Sony, a world famous brand and Japan, an electronics giant. Have a look at his stepping stones to success:

  • The perfect partnership: After the war, Akio Morita was stationed at Tokyo Institute of Technology, serving as a professor, when he came across an article about the research lab that was being built by his long term friend and electrical engineer, Masaru Ibaku. He contacted Ibaku and was welcomed by him. This warm welcome crystallised into an everlasting partnership. On May 7, 1946, Tokyo Kogyo K.K was incorporated.
  • Their venture was started in a bombed-out departmental store at war ruined locality of Tokyo. While Ibaku headed technical aspects of the products, Morita looked after the marketing and financing. Their debut product was the automatic rice cooker. Unfortunately, the rice cooker failed as a product.
  • The market was filled with lower quality Japanese products which were copied from the West. Taking it as a challenge, Morita developed new products and targeted western markets as Japan’s economy was still shaky because of the war.
  • The tape-recorder that was developed around 1950 found modest success. It was Morita’s efforts of innovation of developing magnetic-tapes.
  • Ingenious marketing technique: The pocket-sized radio which was developed by Morita in 1955, was too big to be kept in the pocket, so Morita made his salesmen wear a shirt with larger pockets so that the radio can be easily demonstrated by gliding them in and out of the pocket. Later, the Radio was a hit and became a commercial success.
  • Sony: The name is derived from the Latin word sonus meaning sound. In 1960, Akio Morita, in spite of facing opposition, decided to change the name of his company to Sony as he felt that to foothold the world market, an easy to remember the name is required. In 1960, Sony Corporation of America was established in the United States. Interestingly, a year after in 1961, it became the first Japanese company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in the form of American depositary receipts (ADRs).

Leadership is in making risky decisions. And leaders need to be experts in this field.

  • To expand the business in America, Morita along with his family moved to New York in 1963. His objective was to learn their culture and cater to their demands with Sony products.
  • His autobiography Made in Japan was published in 1986. It mentions the insights of Japanese business and his personal views.
  • Sony’s Walkman: Debuted in 1979 Sony’s Walkman became one of the most sold products in mankind’s history with over 250 million units sold worldwide. Walkman was Morita’s brainchild, who deciphered the need for a portable music player.
  • According to Morita, Non-licensing its VCR was his biggest mistake, which was toppled down by VHS technology that was developed by its rivals and offered more recording time. This mistake made Sony lose $3.2 billion in its Hollywood venture in 2011.
  •  The master plan of allotting 6% of the total revenue garnered from sales to R&D cell of Sony helped in many cutting edge innovations ranging from CD players to Play Stations.
  • Morita was conferred an Honorary Doctor of Law degree from the University of Pennsylvania and Williams College. He was also honoured with the Legion of Honor in 1984 among other prestigious medals. He was decorated with Honorary British Knighthood in 1993. He served Sony as the Chairman till 1994 breathed his last after suffering from pneumonia, on October 1999.

Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. But make sure you don’t make the same mistake twice.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or renewed leaders who moved the industry with his exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian AssangeSir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.


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