The Man Who Made Sony: The Early Years of Akio Morita

He turned what was once a small bombed-out department store in Tokyo into the world’s most successful consumer electronics company. Not only that but Akio Morita, co-founder of the Sony Corporation, was also one of the few entrepreneurs that helped Japan’s economy recover in the aftermath of World War II. Today, more than half a century after the company’s initial inception, and with Morita at the helm until his only recent departure, Sony remains one of the world’s largest media conglomerates, with over 158,000 employees worldwide and revenues in excess of $63 billion.

Born on January 26, 1921 in Nagoya, Japan, Morita entered into a family that had been in the sake brewing business for over fifteen generations. Over the years, their operations had also expanded to include the production of miso and soy sauce. As a result, his family was a wealthy one. It was also a relatively Westernized one, with phonographs and Western music being played throughout his house.

From his childhood, it had always been assumed that Morita would continue the family tradition of making sake. He had begun being groomed to take over the family business by the age of ten, at which time his father even made him attend all of the company’s board meetings. In just a few years, Morita had become an expert at everything from monitoring the brewing process, to evaluating the quality of the sake that their factories were producing, to managing their workers.

But, while Morita was learning the ins and outs of the family business, so too did he discover that his true interest was not in sake after all, but rather in mathematics and physics. Indeed, by the time he was in the tenth standard, Morita realized that he was not destined to keep the family tradition alive, much to the disappointment of his father.

After graduating from high school, Morita enrolled in Osaka Imperial University, where he graduated with a degree in physics in 1944. In that time, he had become particularly interested in the techniques and challenges of recording high quality sound.

Morita’s personal interests were put on hold as his country found itself in the middle of World War II. Trained as a physicist, Morita knew his services could be used, and thus enlisted in the Japanese Navy immediately upon graduation. Not only did he rise in the ranks quickly, but it was also in the Navy where he met Masaru Ibuka, an electronics engineer. Morita had met Ibuka at the Navy’s Wartime Research Committee, and with their shared interests, the two became fast friends.

As the war drew to an end, Morita took on a faculty position at the Tokyo Institute of Technology. Meanwhile, Ibuka had founded his own endeavor, the Tokyo Telecommunications Research Institute. Morita also began working for Ibuka on a part-time basis. But, as more and more Japanese companies began shutting down in the aftermath of the war, Morita and Ibuka put their heads together to see what they could do.

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