Cover image for Sony : the private life
Sony : the private life
Nathan, John, 1940-
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Boston : Houghton Mifflin, 1999.
Physical Description:
xvi, 347 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
HD9696.A3 J367623 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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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 story is one of the signal fables of our age. In SONY: THE PRIVATE LIFE, John Nathan, a preeminent expert on Japanese culture, dissects this fable, pulling the veil from one of the world's most successful and secretive corporations. He uncovers persuasive evidence that Sony's biggest triumphs, from color TV to CDs, and most calamitous failures, like the Betamax debacle and the vexed takeover of Columbia Pictures, stem from the web of intense relationships that have always characterized its top ranks. Nathan traces this emotional web as no other writer has or could, by drawing on his unmatched expertise in Japanese culture and his unique, unlimited access to Sony's inner sanctum. With a novelist's skill - honed by translating the works of Yukio Mishima and Kenzaburo Oe - Nathan etches incisive portraits of the company's famously enigmatic cofounder, Akio Morita; its patrician, autocratic CEO, Norio Ohga; and its edgy new leader, Nobuyuki Idei, who already has brought wrenching changes to Sony. Nathan's exploration of the Sony empire also reveals how it invented color TV as we know it and used bold marketing techniques to best the inferior yet dominant American competition; why Sony ignored the conventional wisdom of the time to enter a groundbreaking partnership with archrival Philips to perfect the CD; how Sony manages to prosper despite Japan's economic malaise; and what innovations and strategies it plans for the new century. With authority and wit, Nathan dispels the myths that surround Sony and crafts unparalleled corporate drama. Sony: The Private Life is at once an engrossing chronicle of astounding entrepreneurship and a poignant account of loyalty's consequences.

Author Notes

John Nathan is the author of the definitive biography of the novelist Yukio Mishima & has translated the novels of both Mishima & the Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe into English. He is an Emmy Award-winning filmmaker & lives in Santa Barbara, California.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

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 absorbingÄand even poignantÄsections 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Booklist Review

Nathan's revelatory portrait of Sony, the Japanese electronics pioneer and worldwide entertainment conglomerate, is unlike any of the many other business histories now flooding the market. Nathan is not a business writer. He is a University of California professor of Japanese cultural studies and author of the definitive biography of noted Japanese author Yukio Mishima. Fluent in Japanese, he has translated several of Mishima's novels as well as those of Nobel Laureate Kenzaburo Oe. Moreover, Nathan's sensibilities as an award-winning filmmaker are also reflected here. A dozen years ago, Sony chairman Akio Morita purported to tell the history of his company with Made in Japan but instead lectured an American audience on Japanese management. In 1996, Nathan was commissioned by Sony to produce a film commemorating its fiftieth anniversary. Building on that work and taking advantage of the trust he earned, Nathan exposes the enigmatic contradictions that drive Sony. He shows how critical business decisions have been shaped by "sentimental logic" and by the "skein of personal relations at the heart of the company." --David Rouse

Library Journal Review

No expos‚ here. Nathan, the Takashima Professor of Japanese Cultural Studies at the University of California, aimed for "an intimate personal history" of SONY. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



The Founding Fathers: In Pursuit of a Postwar DreamAt the center of the postwar social organism called Sony Corporation stands one of business history's most productive and intriguing relationships. For over forty years, Masaru Ibuka and Aldo Morita grew Sony together, from adjoining offices, reveling in each other's company. Their personal secretaries, women who devoted themselves to their well-being for dozens of years and who remain at work maintaining their deserted offices today, every book and electronic gadget in place, like to remember them facing each other on the rug, playing with a prototype that Ibuka had snatched from the hands of one his engineers and carried upstairs gleefully to show Morita. Sometimes, if one of them had just returned from a trip to America, the focus of their pleasure would be a shopping bag full of actual toys from F.A.0. Schwarz. Ibuka's son, Makoto, recalls somewhat ruefully the mechanical toys his father bought for him on trips abroad; the gifts were handed over only after having been taken apart and reassembled, or partially reassembled, in the office of the president. Morita's second son, Masao, remembers that a visit to the founders' offices was like stepping inside a toy box. His father always purchased two of any toy or mechanical gimmick--an electric potato peeler, for example--one for himself and one for Ibuka. Ibuka had a lifelong passion for electric trains and was president of the Japan Association of Microtrains; for a period of years, a narrow-gauge track was installed along the walls of his office. Morita collected mechanical organs, music boxes, and player pianos. His favorite toy was a remote-controlled helium balloon. When they were both at work, Ibuka and Morita took lunch together, sometimes inviting someone else to join them in the company dining room. Each knew the other's office as well as his own: Ibuka was an inveterate tinkerer, and as he sat at his desk, fixing a watch or a radio, he would call out to his secretary, "Go into Morita's office and see if there isn't a set of small screwdrivers in the third drawer of his desk." If Ibuka and Morita had serious disagreements over the years, they resolved them privately. Regarding company policy they spoke with one voice; no one in or outside Sony ever heard either of them criticize the other. Nor has anyone who has ever seen them together failed to remark on the exclusive bond that seemed to unite them in a mysterious way. According to Makoto Ibuka: "They were closer than lovers, even Mrs. Morita felt that. They were bound together by a tie so tight it was more like love than friendship. The connection was so deep that not even their wives could break into it when they were together. Even now, when they're both sick, when Mr. Morita comes to visit my father or my father pays Mr. Morita a visit, they sit together in silence, holding hands, the tears running down their cheeks, and they're communicating without words. Excerpted from Sony: The Private Life by John Nathan All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. ix
Prefacep. xi
1 The Founding Fathers: In Search of a Postwar Dreamp. 1
2 Ibuka the Muse: From "Talking Paper" to Trinitronp. 25
3 Akio Morita: Discovering Americap. 51
4 Morita the Dazzler: The Man Behind the Maskp. 68
5 Sony's First American: Lessons in Logic from Harvey Scheinp. 93
6 Maestro Ohga: The Art of Profitp. 116
7 Extending the Family: The Rise of Mickey Schulhofp. 158
8 One for Chairman Akio: The Columbia Pictures Acquisitionp. 180
9 Hollywood Continued: Tailspinp. 220
10 Ohga and Schulhof: A Tale of Love and Hubrisp. 241
11 Idei the Heretic: Empire's Endp. 280
Indexp. 327