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by Yasuharu Dando
Misgivings about the dull personnel revolution at Sony
(March 2005) (Japanese edition:13/March/2005)...Japanese Blog Review 1
Sony has decided to present a completely revamped face with its first foreign CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and its unheralded stolid technician of a president. It is common knowledge that they long ago ceased to come up with attractive products in their core electronics business, and have been clinging on with the profits from game consoles and movie software. Sony goods have long had a place in Japanese households. In my own house it started with one of those tape recorders with a vacuum tube amp. There is so much general interest in Sony and, even though share prices may have risen, when I looked around the blogging world I found that many people were voicing fears about whether the management really can weather this crisis.
The business weblog 'Thoughts on management changes at Sony', which maintains that "Sony's roots lie in making things", offers the following thoughts upon reading a recent interview with the next chairman, Howard Stringer: "By seeking to protect its image and brand as a cool entertainment business, and minimizing the importance of making things, Sony may well lose its strengths even more." It also contrasts Sony with Apple, revitalized by its 'only one' production.
The US media also seem to see Sony's "true mainstay" as "making things". 'Made in Japan', by a woman studying journalism in the US, introduces the conclusion of an editorial in The Financial Times: "If the company is to rise again, it must avoid being sidetracked by ill-conceived diversification and rediscover its inventive roots."
One favourable evaluation is given by a blog which deals with game console topics, 'American corporate leadership's comeback strategy for Sony under Stringer.' "It is not that the hardware is not selling because it is not attractive. It is rather the opposite; the paucity of the software and service system, which should underpin the hardware, is gravely damaging the appeal of the hardware itself." The reason for losing to Apple's iPod is also that the market backed away from Sony's insistence on its own music compression and playback standards. "Sony must create its own good circulation model for hardware, software and the service system, in other words, their convergence strategy." "It is significant for Sony that Stringer is based in the US and not in Tokyo. This is because the convergence strategy upon which Sony's fortunes depend is being driven entirely by US corporations."
I was very struck by the words of the new president, Ryoji Chubachi: "Sony products at the moment do not draw much attention from the consumers. We must return to the starting point of just what are the needs of the consumers." This is strangely just too obvious. Are these words appropriate for the next president of Sony? I cannot help but recall Akio Morita, the founder of Sony and a man who literally took on the world.
'Sony-ne-e', written by a musician, has this to say. "What Sony has definitely lost is nothing other than 'culture'. Simply put, Nobuyuki Idei, the CEO, does not like music, or movies and film, as much as Morita did, and he doesn't know about creativity or what excites people." I remember that the previous president, Norio Ohga, who had been a vocalist, had the intent to make exciting products.
While I was surfing the Net, a description I had read in a Time feature, 'The Most Influential Asians of the Century', sprang to mind. John Nathan (the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara) wrote the following anecdote. The memory of Morita's brightness survives as part of his legacy to Sony. When Nathan asked Ohga why he had selected Idei, Ohga replied, "The leader of Sony must have radiance". Idei shone for a while after his appointment in 1995. The grave misgivings about the Sony revolution this time round stem from the total lack of radiance on the part of Stringer and the Chubachi system.
Notes:The original Time feature on Akio Morita can be found at
I have drawn upon the final section.
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