The Hushed Emperor

In February 1962 the headline in a Japanese newspaper was: ‘Emperor Hushed Up’ .

The Emperor and Empress had visited a Sony plant but had been sworn to secrecy about the new product they had been shown.

In April 1962 Sony put on sale the world’s smallest and lightest TV and opened a store on New York’s Fifth Avenue to sell it.

The TV was a sell- out. The only problem was that the company’s TV transistor manufacturing plant had a strike and they couldn’t get enough transistors to make enough TVs to supply demand.

Sony could have closed the plant and made the transistors elsewhere but company co-founder Masaru Ibuka said: “We have to face the causes of the strike squarely and make whatever improvements are needed.”

Sony hired a new plant manager from the printing industry called Shigeru Kobayashi. Kobayashi told the plant workers: I don’t know a thing about transistors but I like people.”

He instituted a trust-based working system. The cashiers were taken out of the cafeteria, time-cards were abolished.

After a few weeks it was announced that the head of Sony’s semiconductor division Kazuo Iwama was coming to visit the plant.

Everyone assumed that the visit meant that they were all going to be sacked and the plant closed.

Realising their fears, Iwama opened his remarks to them by saying: “Everyone please relax. I have come as the best semiconductor engineer in the world to help you.”

The turnaround in plant morale, attitude and effectiveness was complete.


One comment

  1. Hi David … reading this so soon after your Andy Grove’s Leadership entry just adds even more weight to the management by strong leadership vs accounting wheezes and matrices. Bottom line … it’s people that make a company succeed or fail – the efficiency and productivity gains to be had from motivated vs de-motivated staff is enormous. Closing factories and management by spreadsheet numbers is easy; any fool can do that … nurturing a dream takes real guts and grit; not million dollar salaries.

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