Unfortunate news to report this morning. Norio Ohga, senior advisor and former president and chairman of the Sony Corporation, is dead at the age of 81. He died in Tokyo this morning at 9:14 a.m., the victim of multiple organ failure.
Ohga was named the company’s president in 1982 and later added the position of CEO to his title in 1989, the same year Sony purchased Columbia Pictures. He succeeded company co-founder Akio Morita as chairman in 1994 and held that position until 2003, when he formally retired and settled into an advisory role.
Perhaps one of Ohga’s greatest achievements during his time at the company was his spearheading of a Sony initiative to develop compact optical disc formats. He trained as a musician before coming to Sony, and it was that experience which led Ohga to push for the physical size and total running time of early CDs; his benchmark was to create something long enough for people to listen to Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony all the way through without stopping. Compact discs have since made way for the MP3 of course, but Ohga’s efforts also led to the development of subsequent optical disc formats, such as CD-ROMs, DVDs and, most recently, Blu-ray discs.
Well before taking a top position at the company, Ohga also presided over the negotiations that led to the establishment of CBS/Sony Records, Inc. — now Sony Music Entertainment, Inc. — in 1968. The new record label hit the ground running, earning a reputation for building up a strong stable of artists, and it was a market leader by the end of the following decade. In addition to that and the purchase of Columbia Pictures, Ohga also played a key role in establishing Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993 and its PlayStation brand.
Current Sony chairman, CEO and president Sir Howard Stringer expressed his sadness and condolences in a statement. “When I first joined Sony in 1997, Ohga-san was serving on the frontlines of Sony management as Chairman and CEO. His numerous and successful endeavors were well-known both inside and outside of Sony. Witnessing Ohga-san’s leadership firsthand was truly an honor, and one I continued to enjoy and benefit from in countless ways in the years that followed.
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 game, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san’s foresight and vision.
I offer my deepest condolences on his passing and pray that he may rest in peace.”