7.162009

the man behind walkman

Sony‘s celebration of Walkman‘s 30th anniversary this month has been bittersweet.  The headlines of stories covering the occasion speak to brand’s lost luster.  Yahoo! Tech declaredSony struggling as Walkman hits 30th anniversary“; “Sony toilsMSNBC’s headline agreed and added:  “Once a pioneer of cutting-edge gadgets, company struggles to reinvent self.”

In the midst of this downcast coverage, I thought it important to discuss the virtues of the venerable Sony brand — and the best way to do that is to extol the man behind the brand, Akio Morita.

akio morita with a walkman
akio morita with a walkman

In 1946 Akio Morita along with Masaru Ibuka started the company with a scant $500 and a floor of a fire-bombed Toykyo department store for an office.  From the very beginning, Morita-san advanced some strong beliefs and philosophies which shaped the company which has become the multi-billion enterprise and one of the world’s most valuable brands today.

“We do what others don’t.” Morita-san felt strongly that Sony “never follows.”  His commitment to true innovation led to a string of firsts for the company including the first pocket-sized transistor radio, the first color television tube, the first home video tape recording unit, among many others.  Beyond products, Morita-san infused everything Sony did with this convention-breaking spirit.

Consumer-inspired product development and marketing. Morita-san is notoriously known for not believing in consumer research, asserting that Sony shouldn’t ask people what they want because they don’t know what they want.  But this unfairly characterizes his beliefs, because he led the charge to develop products and market them based on a keen understanding of consumers and their lifestyles.  In fact, the Walkman was designed and launched as a fashionable device because Morita-san predicted the rise of a “headphone culture.”

Creating a culture. The prospectus drafted by the founders of the company speaks of their desire to create an organization in which “persons could become united with a firm spirit of teamwork and exercise to their hearts’ desire their technological capability.”  Morita-san’s mission was to create more than products; he wanted to create a new kind of company, a distinct way of doing business, a culture.

These are just a few examples of the spirit of Morita-san which became the spirit of the company — and the Sony brand.  Say what you will about Sony’s current state and future outlook.  The man behind Walkman — and the way he built the Sony brand — is an inspiration to any entrepreneur or business leader today.

To learn more about Akio Morita and the brand he built, here are some book recos:

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