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Sunday, October 3, 1999 Published at 13:22 GMT 14:22 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Sony pioneer dies

Morita helped turn Japan into an electronics world leader

The entrepreneur and engineer who helped build the electronics company Sony into a worldwide empire, Akio Morita, has died in Tokyo from pneumonia at the age of 78.

BBC News' Jill McGivering reflects on Mr Morita's achievements
The company was instrumental in turning Japan's cheap and shoddy post-war manufacturing image to its current status as an electronics world leader.

Akio Morita - the man who brought stereo to Japan - was also the brains behind inventions such as the Walkman personal stereo and Trinitron, a method of projecting colour images onto a television tube.

BBC's Andrew Wood: "Akio Morita liked to take risks"
Sony also built the first home video cassette recorder Betamax.

The product is remembered by the public as the loser in the battle with the rival VHS system - though because of its technical superiority Beta reigns supreme in the world of broadcasting.

Gadget maker

Although he was the heir to one of Japan's oldest sake breweries, Mr Morita declined to take over the family business.

[ image: The latest Sony micro-Walkman was launched last month]
The latest Sony micro-Walkman was launched last month
Akio Morita started a business called Tokyo Tsushin Denki (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation) with his friend, the inventor Masaru Ibuka, in a bombed-out shop in 1946 in the aftermath of World War II.

At first, they made gadgets like rice cookers by the late-1950s they had turned their attentions to producing tape recorders and other audio equipment.

At that point, the company was renamed Sony - from the Latin sonus meaning sound.

"We wanted a new name that could be recognised anywhere in the world, one that could be pronounced the same in any language," Morita wrote in his book Made in Japan.

Walkman and Japan Inc

The company steadily gained a reputation for high quality innovative products.

The successes came as Morito pushed his engineers to come up with fresh ideas, rather than rely on market research.

Reactions from the streets of Tokyo
The 1979 appearance of the Walkman, the company's pioneering personal stereo cassette player, is a case in point.

Mr Morita overruled opposition from those within his own company who saw no future for the product.

[ image: Sony has become one of the world's brand names]
Sony has become one of the world's brand names
He was to become the pioneer of 'Japan Inc' at the peak of the country's global presence in the 1980s.

Not all Sony business plans were successful. As well as the failure of Betamax, Sony's investment in a Hollywood studio never fulfilled its promise.

And he upset US legislators with his co-authorship of A Japan That Can Say No in 1989, which defended Japan's strong exports and criticised his managerial counterparts in the US.

The book was so controversial he withdrew his name from it when it appeared in English translation.

Long illness

Akio Morita retired as the chairman of Sony in 1994, although he stayed on as honorary chairman.

A year earlier he had collapsed with a brain haemmorrhage during a game of tennis which left him in a wheelchair.

He spent most of his retirement in Hawaii, but he returned to Japan in August and had been staying in a Tokyo hospital, where his condition worsened last month.

Mr Morita's colleagues and business rivals have been paying tribute to him since the announcement of his death.

Sony president Nobuyuki Idei called him "an unprecedented Japanese man and a rare communicator".

Yoichi Morishita, of Matsushita (makers of VHS) said: "He played a leading role in the industry. I heartily respected him as our senior in the same circle."

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