Sony's cofounders, Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita, met near the end of World War II. Ibuka was an engineer with a childlike love for gadgetry and technology; Morita, a pragmatic physicist who arranged to be away from his military unit on the day Japan surrendered, fearful that all officers would be ordered to commit ritual suicide. (He guessed correctly.) Together they founded Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Co., Ltd., the forerunner of Sony, in 1946, using loans from Morita's wealthy family for startup capital. But even that wasn't as simple as it seems. First, Morita had to be released from his obligation, as first-born son, to take over the family sake business. The very Japaneseness of that moment goes a long way toward illustrating the exotic charm of Sony: The Private Life
John Nathan is a professor of Japanese culture at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and speaks and understands the nuanced Japanese like a native. He was given extraordinary access to Sony employees, and found some of them telling him company secrets that had never been revealed to outsiders. (In international business, the electronics giant has traditionally been regarded as a black hole; information goes in, but it never comes out.) From these intimate revelations, he tells a story of a company that to Western observers always seemed like a bottom-line-oriented conglomerate. The reality, he writes, is that Sony has always operated via intense personal relationships and loyalties--in that sense, in a very Japanese way. Even the company's disastrous decision to buy Columbia Pictures came from top Sony executives' desire to honor Morita, who'd always wanted to own a movie studio. Although that decision ultimately cost Sony billions of dollars, it pleased the man who mattered. --Lou Schuler
From Publishers Weekly
Readers should be thankful that the most thorough history of Sony yet written comes from a writer steeped in Japanese culture rather than in business. Nathan, a professor of Japanese cultural studies at UC-Santa Barbara, gives a human dimension to the Japanese electronics giant, especially to its cofounders, Masaru Ibuka (the dreamer) and Akio Morita (the pragmatist), who, according to Ibuka's son, were linked by a bond of friendship and collegiality that made them "closer than lovers." Nathan had the full cooperation of Sony, including access to top officials and archives. Yet this is no puff-piece, but rather a fascinating account of how Sony succeeded despite such setbacks as the failure of Betamax and the disastrous $4.7 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures. At the center of the story are Ibuka and Morita, who strove to make Sony accepted and respected beyond Japan, especially in the U.S. Some of the most absorbingAand even poignantAsections concern the cultural divide between Japan and America. Nathan focuses on the interpersonal relationships among the company's leaders to examine what made the company tick. In addition to the interplay between Ibuka and Morita, Nathan documents the rise of Norio Ohga as the successor to the cofounders and also devotes a considerable amount of time to the relationship between Ohga and Mickey Schulhof, the highest-ranking American Sony officer before he was fired by the current Sony president Nobuyuki Idei. By mixing interviews with Sony executives with his own insights, Nathan provides readers with a thorough and entertaining history of the company that rose out of the ashes of WWII to embody Japan's postwar resurrection. (Sept.)
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