6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent autobiographical survey of a life in technology,
By A Customer
This review is from: Made in Japan: Akio Morita and Sony (Paperback)
First published in 1994, Made in Japan remains one of the very best business books about successful strategies for a technology company, by the very virtue that it is a wide-ranging autobiography rather than a preachy "words of wisdom" MBA-target audience publication for aspiring executives.
The late Akio Morita - co-founder of Sony in 1945 with Masaru Ibuka - chose instead to look back to the origins of the company, from his early childhood interests in electronics and gramophone recording, his initial introduction to Ibuka at Osaka University during World War II, and explain the key decisions which enabled seven employees at Tokyo Telecommunications Research Laboratories in a bombed out telephone operators' room with a total of $500 dollars, to grow into the most successful consumer electronics company in the world, complete with some of the most famous brands of the 20th century.
Morita traces their initial attempts to make tape recorders in the 1940's, transistor radios in the 1950's, colour televisions in the 1960's, video recorders in the 1970's and the Walkman in the 1980's, with commentary throughout on underlying business strategy. Morita's refreshing honesty on the role of happy coincidence allied with technological innovation in his company's success is instructive, is his incessant emphasis on research and development investment. Morita and Ikuba single-mindedly pushed development of the Walkman in the late 1970's, despite internal opposition who questioned the market for such a product, a scenario which was to be repeated in the 1990's (outside the scope of this book) with the development of the Playstation.
And there is more than one American billionaire who owes their fortunes to Morita's single greatest miscalculation - one which he eternally regretted - that to move Sony out of calculator design in the late 1960's, "I confess it showed a lack of technical foresight on my part..had we stayed in calculators we might have developed early expertise in digital technology for use later in personal computers and..applications, and we could have had the jump on our competition...we were right in the short term, but in the long term we made a mistake."
Less convincing are Morita's attempts to reconcile Japanese business practice and management with "western" business style. The paradox of Morita was that he was an iconoclastic inventor, yet an ultra-conservative businessman, dismissive of the stock market, who would describe Sony as "old-style familial company..unusual or rare in the United States". Certain of his comments now seem distinctly old fashioned. For example, Morita does not feel the need to comment on the traditional paucity of females in senior Japanese executive positions - predominantly due to wider prevailing social conditions - a lamentable state of affairs which has only recently been recently and spectacularly reversed by Mari Matsunaga and her success in overseeing i-mode wireless telephony at NTT DoCoMo. His attitude towards company-employee relations will seem positively feudal to many "western" workers !
Nonetheless there are strong sections on sales strategy, competition (including the Betamax-VHS fiasco), R &D, manufacturing location, globalisation and international partnering (e.g. less well known facts that Sony helped General Motors invest in Japan).
Well written through the contributions of collaborative authors, and eschewing much business jargon, Morita - a well known New York socialite, anecdote-teller and inveterate name dropper - entertains throughout. Although the index is rather disappointing for quick reference (e.g. no separate entries for Walkman, Trinitron, Betamax or other Sony brands) , the book contains a multitude of examples which remain relevant for management of technology companies today. Given the continued success of Sony, it is puzzling why Morita's book remained the only full length English-language study of the company until 1999.