Sony’s Akio Morita

Lessons in leadership from Sony

Without Akio Morita, would we have the iPod? Born into an affluent family, he was heir to a centuries-old sake business. But his passion was for electronics, and today Sony is one of the world’s most trusted electronic brands. Morita’s single-minded and risk-taking approach has been key to its success.

Along with business partner Masaru Ibuka, Morita formed Tokyo Tsushin Kyogu (TTK) in 1946. TTK’s goods, including the world’s first transistor radio, sold successfully across the US, although Japanese goods were then generally held in low regard.

In 1958, Morita reckoned the brand was not strong enough to sell worldwide and sought to change the name. The decision upset his partners and colleagues, especially as the new name was unrelated to Japan. He chose Sony (a blend of sonous, Latin for sound, and the American colloquialism “Sonny-boy”), because it could be spoken in any language and would be pronounced the same everywhere.

In 1963, when Japanese businessmen were still isolationist in their thinking, Morita moved to the US to be closer to his main market, standing out once again. In the US he realised that young people wanted music wherever they were and in 1980 he brought out the Sony Walkman, which for years was his most famous product. In 1992, sports enthusiast Morita collapsed on the tennis court during an early morning game. The following year, ill health forced him to retire from the multi-billion dollar empire he had created.

What he taught us:
  • Embrace new technologies: the transistor was an Amercian invention, but it was Morita who popularised its use
  • Stick to your guns: Morita was regularly challenged by his own colleagues about his ideas but he proved them wrong time and time again
  • Challenge yourself: Morita never did things the easy way and constantly sought new experiences in both his business and personal life – he learned skiing, tennis and scuba diving when he was over 50.
Factfile: Born: Nagoya (Japan), January 1921 Died: Tokyo (Japan), 1999 Business career: Founded Tokyo Tsushin Kyogu (TTK), later known as  Sony, with a $530 loan. He pioneered consumer electronics and was the force behind goods such as tape recorders, transistor radios, TVs and the Walkman. Tell me something I didn’t know: The Walkman was originally called the Soundabout in the US, but Sony’s US executives didn’t like the name.

 

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