An eminent expert on Japanese culture draws on unparalleled access to Sony's archives and executives to craft a revelatory portrait of the passions and loyalties that have driven Sony to its greatest triumphs and most notorious debacles.
John Nathan pulls the veil from one of the most spectacularly successful and secretive postwar corporations. 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 is one of the signal fables of our age. Nathan dissects the fable and uncovers persuasive evidence that Sony's biggest triumphs (color TV, the Walkman) and most calamitous failures (the demise of Beta, the botched takeover of Columbia Pictures) emerged from the dizzying web of intense relationships that have always permeated its top ranks.
Nathan charts this emotional web as no other writer has or could, by drawing on his unmatched expertise in Japanese culture and his unique access to Sony's inner sanctum. The result is at once an engrossing chronicle of astounding entrepreneurship and a poignant account of loyalty's consequences. With authority and wit, Nathan dispels the myths that surround Sony and crafts corporate drama at its apex.
Readers should be thankful that the most thorough history of Sony yet written comes from a writer steeped in Japanese culture rather than in business. Nathan, a professor of Japanese cultural studies at UC-Santa Barbara, gives a human dimension to the Japanese electronics giant, especially to its cofounders, Masaru Ibuka (the dreamer) and Akio Morita (the pragmatist), who, according to Ibuka's son, were linked by a bond of friendship and collegiality that made them "closer than lovers." Nathan had the full cooperation of Sony, including access to top officials and archives. Yet this is no puff-piece, but rather a fascinating account of how Sony succeeded despite such setbacks as the failure of Betamax and the disastrous $4.7 billion purchase of Columbia Pictures. At the center of the story are Ibuka and Morita, who strove to make Sony accepted and respected beyond Japan, especially in the U.S. Some of the most absorbing--and even poignant--sections concern the cultural divide between Japan and America. Nathan focuses on the interpersonal relationships among the company's leaders to examine what made the company tick. In addition to the interplay between Ibuka and Morita, Nathan documents the rise of Norio Ohga as the successor to the cofounders and also devotes a considerable amount of time to the relationship between Ohga and Mickey Schulhof, the highest-ranking American Sony officer before he was fired by the current Sony president Nobuyuki Idei. By mixing interviews with Sony executives with his own insights, Nathan provides readers with a thorough and entertaining history of the company that rose out of the ashes of WWII to embody Japan's postwar resurrection. (Sept.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.