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#102 Akio Morita (Sony)
December 15th, 2019 | E102

What I learned from reading Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony by Akio Morita. 


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[0:01] Forty years ago, a small group gathered in a burned-out department store building in war-devastated downtown Tokyo. Their purpose was to found a new company, their optimistic goal was to develop the technologies that would help rebuild Japan's economy.

[5:00] I was born the first son and fifteenth-generation heir to one of Japan's finest and oldest sake-brewing families. The Morita family has been making sale for three hundred years. Unfortunately, the taste of a couple of generations of Morita family heads was so refined and their collecting skills so acute that the business suffered while they pursued their artistic interests, letting the business take care of itself, or, rather, putting it in other hands. They relied on hired managers to run the Morita company, but to these managers the business was no more than a livelihood, and if the business did not do well, that was to be regretted, but it was not crucial to their personal survival. In the end, all the managers stood to lose was a job. They did not carry the responsibility of the generations, of maintaining the continuity and prosperity of the enterprise and the financial well-being of the Morita family. 

[8:18] Tenacity, perseverance, and optimism are traits that have been handed down to me through the family genes.

[9:25] I was taught that scolding subordinates and looking for people to blame for problems—seeking scapegoats—is useless. These concepts have stayed with me and helped me develop the philosophy of management that served me very well.

[10:28] I had to teach myself because the subjects I was really interested in were not taught in my school in those days.

[14:09] The emperor, who until now had never before spoken directly to his people, told us the immediate future would be grim. He said that we could “pave the way for a grand peace for all generations to come," but we had to do it "by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is insufferable."

[23:58] When some of my relatives came to see me, they were so shocked by the shabby conditions that they thought I had become an anarchist. They could not understand how, if I was not a radical, I could choose to work in a place like that.

[24:28] Ibuka and I had often spoken of the concept of our new company as an innovator, a clever company that would make new high technology products in ingenious ways.

[29:36] We were engineers and we had a big dream of success. We thought that in making a unique product, we would surely make a fortune. I then realized that having unique technology and being able to make unique products are not enough to keep a business going. You have to sell the products, and to do that you have to show the potential buyer the real value of what you are selling. 

[32:20] There was an acute shortage of stenographers because so many people had been pushed out of school and into war work. Until that shortage could be corrected, the courts of Japan were trying to cope with a small, overworked corps of court stenographers. We were able to demonstrate our machine for the Japan Supreme Court, and we sold twenty machines almost instantly! Those people had no difficulty realizing how they could put our device to practical use; they saw the value in the tape recorder immediately.

[38:03] Marketing is really a form of communication. We had to educate our customers to the uses of our products.

[39:15] We would often have the market to ourselves for a year or more before the other companies would be convinced that the product would be a success. And we made a lot of money, having the market all to ourselves.

[40:20] The public does not know what is possible, but we do. So instead of doing a lot of market research, we refine our thinking on a product and its use and try to create a market for it by educating and communicating with the public.

[42:33] Everybody gave me a hard time. It seemed as though nobody liked the idea [the Walkman]. “It sounds like a good idea, but will people buy it if it doesn't have recording capability? I don't think so." I said, “Millions of people have bought car stereo without recording capability and I think millions will buy this machine.

[46:38] "We definitely want some of these. We will take one hundred thousand units." One hundred thousand units! I was stunned. It was an incredible order, worth several times the total capital of our company. When he told me that there was one condition: we would have to put the Bulova name on the radios. That stopped me. We wanted to make a name for our company on the strength of our own products. We would not produce radios under another name. When I would not budge, he got short with me. "Our company name is a famous brand name that has taken over fifty years to establish," he said. "Nobody has ever heard of your brand name. Why not take advantage of ours?" I understood what he was saying, but I had my own view. “Fifty years ago," I said, “your brand name must have been just as unknown as our name is today. I am here with a new product, and I am now taking the first step for the next fifty years of my company. Fifty years from now I promise you that our name will be just as famous as your company name is, today."

[49:04] When I attended middle school, discipline was very strict, and this included our physical as well as our mental training. Our classrooms were very cold in winter; we didn't even have a heater; and we were not allowed to wear extra clothes. In the navy,I had hard training. In boot camp every morning we had to run a long way before breakfast. In those days I did not think of myself as a physically strong person, and yet under such strict training I found I was not so weak after all, and the knowledge of my own ability gave me confidence in myself that I did not have before. It is the same with mental discipline; unless you are forced to use your mind, you become mentally lazy and you will never fulfill your potential.

[52:06] Norio Ohga, who had been a vocal arts student at the Tokyo University of Arts when he saw our first audio tape recorder back in 1950. He was a great champion of the tape recorder, but he was severe with us because he didn't think our early machine was good enough.He was right, of course; our first machine was rather primitive. We invited him to be a paid critic even while he was still in school. His ideas were very challenging. He said then, "A ballet dancer needs a mirror to perfect her style, her technique."

[54:21] Nobody can live twice, and the next twenty or thirty years is the brightest period of your life. You only get it once. When you leave the company thirty years from now or when your life is finished, I do not want you to regret that you spent all those years here. That would be a tragedy. I cannot stress the point too much that this is your responsibility to yourself. So I say to you, the most important thing in the next few months is for you to decide whether you will be happy or unhappy here.

[59:40] My argument again and again was that by saving money instead of investing it in the business you might gain profit on a short-term basis, but in actual fact, you would be cashing in the assets that had been built up in the past.

[1:00:00] One must prepare the groundwork among the customers before you can expect success in the marketplace. It is a time-honored Japanese gardening technique to prepare a tree for transplanting by slowly and carefully binding the roots over a period of time, bit by bit, to prepare the tree for the shock of the change it is about to experience. This process, called Nemawashi, takes time and patience, but it rewards you, if it is done properly, with a healthy transplanted tree. Advertising and promotion for a brand-new, innovative product is just as important.

[1:01:19] If Japanese clients come into the office of a new and struggling company and see plush carpet and private offices and too much comfort, they become suspicious that this company is not serious, that it is devoting too much thought and company resources to management's comfort, and perhaps not enough to the product or to potential customers. Too often I have found in dealing with foreign companies that such superfluous things as the physical structure and office decor take up a lot more time and attention and money than they are worth.


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