Nathan, John Sony: The Private Life

ISBN 13: 9780002570251

Sony: The Private Life

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9780002570251: Sony: The Private Life

In the wastelands of post-war Tokyo, two men, Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, formed the company that was to become one of the greatest corporations of the 20th century. In this text, John Nathan tells the story of how a small family business became a multi-national with a turnover of billions, whose products are sold throughout the world. One of Sony's greatest early achievements was the Trinitron colour television - by 1998 180 million had been sold world wide. Over the years Sony took recording into the digital age with the compact disc, transformed the way music is listened to with the Walkman, and redrew the computer games market with the Playstation, among many other successes. Sony matched its revolutionary technology with revolutionary methods of marketing - it was one of the first corporations to embrace globalization. So began a dramatic clash of two cultures, one rooted in Japanese native tradition and the other irreconcilably western.

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Review:

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 the Inside Flap:

From its inauspicious beginnings amid Tokyo's bomb-scarred ruins to its role as the world's chief purveyor of electronics and mass culture, Sony's story is one of the signal fables of our age. In Sony: The Private Life, John Nathan, a preeminent expert on Japanese culture, dissects this fable, pulling the veil from one of the world's most successful and secretive corporations. He uncovers persuasive evidence that Sony's biggest triumphs, from color TV to CDs, and most calamitous failures, like the Betamax debacle and the vexed takeover of Columbia Pictures, stem from the web of intense relationships that have always characterized its top ranks.

Nathan traces this emotional web as no other writer has or could, by drawing on his unmatched expertise in Japanese culture and his unique, unlimited access to Sony's inner sanctum. With a novelists skill--honed by translating the works of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe--Nathan etches incisive portraits of the company's famously enigmatic cofounder, Akio Morita; its patrician, autocratic CEO, Norio Ohga; and its edgy new leader, Nobuyuki Idei, who already has brought wrenching changes to the company. Nathan's exploration of the Sony empire, also reveals how it invented color TV as we know it and used bold marketing techniques to best the inferior yet dominant American competition; why Sony ignored the conventional wisdom about the time to enter a groundbreaking partnership with archrival Philips to perfect the CD; how Sony manages to prosper despite Japan's economic malaise; and what innovations and strategies it plans for the new century.

With authority and wit, Nathan dispels the myths that surround Sony and crafts an unparalleled corporate drama. Sony: The Private Life is at once an engrossing chronicle of astounding entrepreneurship and a poignant account of loyalty's consequences.

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Nathan, John
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