Akio Morita (deceased 1999)

Engineer, Billionaire, and

Co-founder of Sony Corporation

Sony co-founder Akio Morita dies at 78
October 3, 1999
Web posted at: 2:21 p.m. HKT (0621 GMT)

TOKYO (CNN) -- Akio Morita, who turned a radio repair business into the worldwide electronics giant Sony Corp., died Sunday at age 78, company officials said.

In the wake of Japan's World War II defeat, Japanese navy veterans Morita and his partner, Masaru Ibuka, set up shop in the ruins of a department store in 1946. In 1958, they adopted the name Sony -- a word similar to the Latin word for sound, but with no meaning of its own.

Morita died of pneumonia Sunday in a Tokyo hospital, a company spokesman said. He was the last of a generation of corporate leaders that transformed the image of Japanese industry from a maker of second-rate goods to creators of cutting-edge products.

CNN's Marina Kamimura describes the business success of Morita and his partner, Masaru Ibuka, who first set up shop in the ruins of a department store in 1946.
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An engineer by training, Morita encouraged innovation and is credited personally with coming up with one of his company's signature innovations -- the Walkman portable tape player. He became the company's chairman in 1976, implementing a mixture of Japanese and Western management concepts.

He was a critic of the short-term corporate thinking that dominated American business, but also warned Japanese leaders that the country needed economic reforms a decade before its current slump.

"We thought if we run our company the Japanese way, always we cannot be successful," told U.S. business students in 1995. "So that's why Sony's management concept is mixture Japanese and Western concept."

He retired as Sony's chairman in 1994, a year after suffering a stroke that left him in a wheelchair. He stayed on as honorary chairman, with current chairman Norio Ohga named his successor.

The company has remained a world leader in the industry with $33 billion in annual sales, even though the rising yen has cut into the company's earnings.