Japanese entrepreneur. Morita co-founded a small electronics company, Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering, with business partner Masaru Ibuka in 1946. His ability to understand consumers, combined with his marketing genius, transformed the company into a global multimedia giant, the Sony Corporation. Morita worked to raise the reputation of Japanese goods abroad and to equate the Sony name with high-quality merchandise, and was a leading international spokesman for Japanese business. The Walkman portable stereo, launched in 1980, was Morita's inspiration; he fought against great opposition to develop and market the device, and the product sold in millions worldwide. He was named Sony chair and CEO in 1976. He left the company in 1994, following a stroke.
Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering was established with just 20 employees and about £1,000 in capital. The company developed Japan's first tape recorder in 1955, and then pioneered new products such as the pocket-sized radio (TR-55), the Trinitron colour television and the videotape recorder. In 1958 Morita changed the company name to Sony to promote the company's image globally. Understanding the importance of the US markets, he made frequent visits there and in 1961 established a US subsidiary (which became the first Japanese company to issue American Depository Receipts (ADRs) and, in 1970, to gain a listing on the New York stock exchange). Morita also opened new plants in Europe, including a TV manufacturing plant at Bridgend, Wales, in 1974.
As one of the first leading industrialists to appoint non-Japanese executives, Morita urged Japanese business executives to think globally and act locally. He criticized Western short-sightedness, and wrote the controversial The Japan That Can Say No in 1989, attacking US trade and foreign policy.
Morita was born in Nagoya, and graduated from Osaka Imperial University in 1944 with a degree in physics. He served in the Japanese navy during World War II where he met Ibuka working on research for a missile project. Fluent in foreign languages, particularly English, Morita played a leading role in the Keidanren (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations) and the Japan-US Economic Relations Group, and served as co-chair of various conferences, including the World Economic Forum. He was awarded an honorary KBE in 1993. Morita published his autobiography, Made in Japan: Akio Morita and the Sony Corporation, in 1987.
He remained a Japanese traditionalist (reportedly disinheriting his son for marrying without his consent), maintaining practices of nemawashi (consensus and prior consultation); he also believed that work was ‘honourable’ and that a company should esteem its employees before its profits.
In addition to tennis, art and music, Morita's later interests (at the age of 60) were scuba diving and water skiing.