Akio Morita – A SUCCESS STORY
Akio Morita was born on January 26, 1921, in the city of Nagoya, to a family of sake brewers. The Morita family has been brewing sake for nearly 400 years in the city of Tokoname, near Nagoya. Under the strict eyes of his father, Kyuzaemon, Akio was groomed to become the heir to the family business. As a student, Akio often sat in on company meetings with his father and he would help with the family business even on school holidays.
The Morita family had in those days already embraced the latest in Western culture, like the automobile and the electric phonograph. Whenever he was relieved from his household duties, the young Akio would become engrossed in taking apart the phonograph and putting it back together.
From an early age, Akio was fond of tinkering with electronic appliances, and mathematics and physics were his favorite subjects during his elementary and junior high school days. After graduating from High School Number Eight, he entered the Physics Department at Osaka Imperial University.
During that time, Japan was in midst of the Pacific War. In 1944, Akio, who had become a Navy lieutenant upon graduation from university that year, met the late Masaru Ibuka for the first time in the Navy’s Wartime Research Committee.
When he returned to the family home in Nagoya after the war, Morita was invited to join the faculty of the Tokyo Institute of Technology by one of its professors. Morita packed his belongings and prepared to leave for Tokyo, when an article about a research laboratory founded by Ibuka appeared in an Asahi newspaper column called, “Blue Pencil.” With the end of the war, Ibuka had founded Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute to embark on a new beginning. Upon reading this article, Morita visited Ibuka in Tokyo and they decided to establish a new company together.
On May 7, 1946, Ibuka and Morita founded Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K.K. (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation)with approximately 20 employees and initial capital of 190,000 yen. At that time, Ibuka was 38 years old and Morita was 25.
Throughout their long partnership, Ibuka devoted his energies to technological research and product development, while Morita was instrumental in leading Sony in the areas of marketing, globalization, finance and human resources. Morita also spearheaded Sony’s entry into the software business, and he contributed to the overall management of the company.
The company’s drive to expand its business globally is apparent in the decision to change its corporate name to Sony in 1958, a decision that was not well received either within or outside the company because Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo had already become widely known. To counter such views, Morita stressed it was necessary to change the name of the company to something that was easier to pronounce and remember, in order for the company to grow and increase its presence globally. In addition, Morita reasoned that the company could one day branch out into products other than electronics and the name Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo would no longer be appropriate. Therefore, he changed the name to Sony Corporation and decided to write ‘Sony’ in the katakana alphabet (a Japanese alphabet that is normally used to write foreign names), something that was unheard of at that time.
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.
Many products that have been launched throughout Sony’s history can be credited to Morita’s creativity and innovative ideas. His ideas gave birth to totally new lifestyles and cultures, and this is evident from such products as the Walkman and the video cassette recorder.
Morita also demonstrated his ability to break away from conventional thinking in the financial area, when Sony issued American Depositary Receipts in the U.S. in 1961. It was the first time that a Japanese company had offered shares on the New York Stock Exchange, and this enabled the company to raise capital not just in Japan. Sony paved the way for Japanese companies to raise foreign capital, at a time when the common practice of Japanese management was to borrow funds from banks.
In the area of human resources, Morita wrote a book called Never Mind School Records in 1966 and stressed that school records are not important in carrying out a job. Morita’s point of view, which he had first made known more than 30 years ago, is today followed by many companies in Japan.
As changing the name Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo to Sony indicates, Morita was eager to diversify Sony’s operations outside of the electronics business. In 1968, the company entered the music software business in Japan by establishing CBS/Sony Group Inc. jointly with CBS, Inc. of the U.S. Then in 1979, Sony entered the financial business in Japan with the founding of Sony Prudential Life Insurance Co. Ltd., a 50-50 joint venture with The Prudential Life Insurance Co. of America. Furthermore, Sony acquired CBS Records Inc., the records group of CBS in 1988. The following year, Sony acquired Columbia Pictures Entertainment, Inc., enabling the company to become a comprehensive entertainment company that owns both quality software content and a wealth of hardware.
Besides managing Sony, Morita was active in building a cultural bridge between Japan and abroad as Vice Chairman of the Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and as a member of the Japan-U.S. Economic Relations Group, better known as the “Wise Men’s Group.” He was instrumental in trying to ease trade frictions between Japan and the U.S., and through the publication of such literary works as Made in Japan, he became, “one of the most well-known Japanese in the U.S.”
Morita was the first Japanese to be awarded the Albert Medal from the United Kingdom’s Royal Society of Arts in 1982. In 1984, he received the National Order of the Legion of Honor (Ordre National de la Légion d’Honneur), the highest and most prestigious French order, and in 1991, he was awarded the First Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from H. M. the Emperor of Japan. In addition, Morita received numerous awards from countries such as Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, and the United States, which shows the extent of his global recognition.
Morita emitted a natural radiance, and his personality, which he himself described as “cheerful,” was loved by many. He had a wide circle of friends both in Japan and abroad, including individuals like Kiichi Miyazawa, former Prime Minister of Japan, Henry Kissinger, former U.S. Secretary of State, and orchestra conductors such as Zubin Mehta and the late Herbert von Karajan.
Morita’s boundless curiosity and challenging spirit extended to his private life; he started skiing, tennis, and scuba diving when he was past 50 years old.