Monday, 25 April 2011

Norio Ohga

Norio Ohga, who died on Saturday aged 81, drew upon his love of music to drive the Japanese electronics firm Sony through technological barriers; most famously he insisted that the Compact Disc store 74 minutes of sound so that he could listen to Beethoven's Ninth Symphony without interruption.

Norio Ohga
Photo: AP
His intuition that CD sales would outstrip vinyl was proved correct within a few years of the digital format's introduction in 1982 – the year that he became Sony's president and chairman. But consumers were not always ready for his other electronic leaps forward. Ohga poured resources into high-definition televisions 20 years ago; only now are they becoming standard.
His boldest move, however, was to transform Sony from a producer of music and video players into a global media brand with the capacity to deliver its own content for these machines. This was effected by hugely expensive acquisitions of a Hollywood studio, Columbia Pictures, and by promotion deals with music stars from Herbert von Karajan to Michael Jackson.
At Sony the talk was of a new synergy between "hardware" and "software". But while Ohga's vision of the multimedia age seemed prescient, Apple was to prove more adept at satisfying the demands of the new era. At the time of his death, many customers looking for ease of use and aesthetic appeal – the areas where Ohga had made his name at Sony – were turning elsewhere.
Norio Ohga was born on January 29 1930 and raised at his affluent family's summer villa on the coastal resort of Numazu, about 75 miles southwest of Tokyo. As a child he suffered from pleurisy and was spared war work, studying music instead. But he did not escape the conflict entirely unscathed, suffering a burn to his arm after a firebomb fell near his house in 1945.
After the war he pursued his singing at the National University of Fine Arts and Music in Tokyo. There his forthright attitude began to attract the attention of powerful figures. These included Genichi Kawakami, chairman of Yamaha, who offered Ohga a job after the young student delivered a pointed critique of Yamaha pianos. Ohga turned him down, instead issuing another blast, this time to Sony, about the newly-formed company's reel-to-reel tape recorder. This time Akio Morita, one of Sony's two founders, offered Ohga a position.
Ohga worked as a consultant for Sony until 1954, when he left to complete his musical training in Berlin. Though he was determined to make a career as a baritone, Sony continued to pay him a wage. The company's determination to hire him paid off in 1959, when Morita persuaded Ohga to join a sales tour which involved a sea journey to America. At the end of it, Ohga had agreed to join Sony as head of tape recorders and design.
Initially he tried to mix his corporate and musical careers. But after falling asleep during a production of The Marriage of Figaro, he retired from professional music.
Meanwhile his career at Sony blossomed. In 1961 he became head of its design centre, introducing the look and style of a generation of Sony products. At 42 he was named corporate managing director; at 46 deputy president. He and Morita were considered a perfect team – the charismatic chief leading Sony's business moves abroad while Ohga, a demanding details-man, kept the production line of must-have gadgets moving back at base.
Once at Sony's helm, he quickly looked to implement his multimedia strategy. In 1988 Sony bought CBS Records; Columbia followed the next year for $3.4 billion. The latter acquisition came freighted with other costs, including the disaffection of some in the American market who feared a "Japanese invasion of Hollywood". Though these takeovers dramatically expanded business, critics maintain that today, 11 years after Ohga left Sony, the company has still to cash in being both an electronics and entertainment giant.
While running Sony, Norio Ohga pursued his love of music, conducting celebrated orchestras in concerts organised by the company. He was also an accomplished pilot and frequently took the controls of the Sony jet. He is survived by his wife, Midori


No comments:

Post a Comment