“Don’t you think a stereo cassette player that you can listen to while walking around is a good idea?” - Masaru Ibuka, Sony Founder
Like most successful household brands, Sony needs little introduction. Anyone who enjoys music, games, movies or photography has probably used or owned Sony products at some point.
Creativity and innovation have kept Sony at the front of consumers’ minds for more than 70 years. But recently, the company behind the Cyber-shot digital camera has been victim to high profile cyber-attacks, raising questions about the organizational culture that allowed them to occur.
We look at four specific aspects of Sony’s corporate culture that have made it the company it is today.
Sony’s vision is “to use our passion for technology, content and services to deliver kando, in ways that only Sony can”.
The Japanese word ‘kando’ means something like ‘emotional involvement’ in English. As Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai explained in 2014:
“[W]e must first and foremost make that connection with people. Our products’ value is measured by them. And we find that it’s not just functional value that people desire, but the deeper and more elusive emotional value.”
Sony’s vision, then, is about making products which evoke powerful feelings about their brand. The Sony Walkman is a great example of Sony executing this vision successfully.
The Walkman tapped into the emotional connection that people have with their music. Before the 1980s, people had never had access to music on the go. The Walkman changed this by combining portability, privacy and personality in one device. It enabled users to listen quietly with headphones whilst also signalling their love of music to the world.
Sony also invokes emotional repsonses through their marketing. This award-winning commercial for the Sony Bravia television range is one of the more talked about ads of the last decade:
Sony operates in more than 183 countries worldwide. But the culture in each office still tends to reflect the culture of the host country. For example, workers at the Tokyo HQ are known for pulling the late hours typical of Japanese office culture. There's also a focus on loyalty to the company and promoting from within, which results in a mostly Japanese executive board.
On the other hand, Sony isn't wholly typical of Japanese companies. Sony founder Masaru Ibuka believed that any employee could come up with the next great product idea. Several other Sony CEOs have embodied this value over the years. In the late 1980s, CEO Norio Ohga gave his backing to junior employee Ken Kutaragi who was secretly spending company money developing video game hardware. Kutaragi went on to develop the best-selling PlayStation for Sony Computer Entertainment.
Some companies talk about innovation, but all they do is re-skin old products year after year. Sony, on the other hand, shows real passion for tech with heavy spending in research and development.
More often than not, it pays off. Canon and Nikon dominated the early days of digital cameras; today, Sony’s mirrorless range is gaining market share. Backing Betamax against VHS was a notable misstep, but Sony bounced back with Blu Ray to win the most recent ‘format war’. And, they’ve acquired top developer talent to build a large roster of exclusive games for the PlayStation 4.
This all begs an important question; why is such a tech-savvy company so prone to cyber attacks?
Since 1999, Sony Group companies have been hacked more than 50 times. The most high profile attack in 2014 saw Sony Pictures lose terabytes of valuable movie scripts and employees’ personal data.
Much of this comes down to the fact that Sony, like other companies, takes data security too lightly. They update their corporate IT security practices too slowly to keep pace with criminals' tactics.
Sony's mistakes show us that any company without a proper culture of data security can be vulnerable to cyber crime.
A company is only as good as its people, and Sony knows how to attract and keep the best.
The company's commitment to training is industry leading. In 2016, Sony spent an average of £1,548 per head on employee development - far more than the £951 spent by US firms. It’s interesting that many competitors choose not to publish data that Sony posts on its website.
Sony also understands that millennials are drawn to companies that offer chances to volunteer. Their company-wide CSR scheme supports hands-on employee involvement with charitable causes. In 2016, more than 130,000 Sony Group employees across the world got involved with youth mentoring, environmental cleanups and fundraising drives.
Add an unlimited employee gift matching scheme to the mix, and you have a company that really invests in people and community.
"The name of the game is not market share, it’s how fast we (Sony) can grow the industry." - Ken Kutaragi, "The Father of the Playstation"