Happy 53rd Birthday Sony

Illustration for article titled Happy 53rd Birthday Sony

Masaru Ibuka started Sony, humbly, in post-war Japan above a department store, 53 years ago today. Their opening charter warned, "We must avoid problems which befall large corporations."

The founder of Sony—Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Company, as it was known then—also insisted that it should "create and introduce technologies which large corporations cannot match" and that the company was founded "to establish of an ideal factory that stresses a spirit of freedom and open-mindedness, and where engineers with sincere motivation can exercise their technological skills to the highest level...the organization would bring untold pleasure and tremendous results, regardless of the meagerness of its facilities or the limited number of employees."

So much has changed. Sony is the big company, slow and outpaced by younger companies grounded in the computer age.


The other day, Sir Howard Stringer, Sony's first foreign CEO, was recently quoted as saying that, "We can no longer say that we're right and our customers are wrong. We can't build only what we want to build."

Young companies, like people, get old, and bloated and inefficient. As scale and size helps them make devices cheaper and in greater varieties, the spirit that helps them create truly novel technologies becomes more and more rare.

Perhaps what Sony—and companies like Sony—need to do is to do what people do. Have kids. In the case of the company, perhaps they can take the most promising engineers and divisions and create new companies in place of the giant parent which feels the inertia of its old customs.

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Sony is right there with my most favoritest companies. Made in Japan, Akio Morita's autobiography, was one of the best books I ever read, and is still a major source of inspiration.

Imagine a physicist-turned-executive in the post-war Japan trying to bring innovative products from pretty much nothing, working his ass out on a condemned building in Tokyo. I love how he designs the innards of products, travels to the USA to sell his ideas and even helps to unload truckloads of radios.

Sony is, nowadays, far away from that beginning, and we know why: it's too big, and produces just too many damn things. The look like Apple before the second coming of The Steve, lost in a sea of names like MDR-XP3001HA.