Norio Ohga, who lead Sony as president from 1982 and CEO from 1989, died on Saturday in Tokyo aged 81. A great music-lover, Ohga aspired to be an opera singer and late in his life he appeared as conductor with a number of leading orchestras (he was president of the Tokyo Philharmonic and often took to the podium in front of them). He was also one of the people present when the Austrian conductor, and a close friend of Ohga, Herbert on Karajan died at his house in Anif near Salzburg.
After graduation from Tokyo’s National University of Fine Arts and Music, Ogha’s career took off as the result of a highly critical review he wrote in 1953 of a Kyogo tape-recorder: the company engaged him as a consultant and his combined knowledge of music and electrical engineering put him in a unique position. After graduating from Berlin’s University of the Arts in 1957, Ohga joined Sony, rising quickly to the posts of Director of Product Planning Division (1964), Senior Managing Director CBS/Sony Records (1968), MD Sony (1972) and Sony’s President (1982). He retired from day-to-day involvement with the company in 2000, and retired from the Board on his 73rd birthday.
Ohga was a major force in the development of the Compact Disc. Working closely with the medium’s inventors, Philips, Sony spearheaded the manufacture of players, and it was supposedly Ohga’s desire that a CD should be able to contain, unbroken, a performance of Beethoven’s Choral Symphony that the length of about 75 minutes was decided upon (Karajan had memorably remarked at the launch of the CD in 1982 that ‘All else is gaslight’).
Ohga’s successor as CEO of Sony Corp, Howard Stringer, commented that ‘by redefining Sony as a company encompassing both hardware and software, Ohga-san succeeded where other Japanese companies failed. It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony’s evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and games, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san’s foresight and vision.’
Other technologies and formats that emerged during Ohga’s tenure included the Sony Walkman, the 8mm Camcorder, DVD, MiniDisc and PlayStation video-game brand. And he also took the company from being purely concerned with ‘hardware’ into the world of ‘software’ by acquiring CBS Records in 1988 and the Hollywood studio Columbia Pictures in 1989.