Sony is one of the world's most widely known electronics companies. Founded in Japan, the company has grown from humble roots to a multinational giant. From the tape player to the Walkman to OLED TV, Sony's tradition of innovation has made it a profitable company for more than 60 years. Kazuo Hirai, who joined the company in 1984 and worked his way up through its media and consumer electronics divisions, became its president and CEO in 2012.
Sony was founded after World War II in 1946 in Tokyo under the name Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corp. by Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita. The company started with less than 200,000 yen--slightly more than $1,500--and began researching. In less than a year, the company released its first product, a power megaphone. In 1950, it released Japan's first tape recorder.
When Sony looked to go global with its products in the mid-1950s, it looked for a new name because the initials TTK were already taken. The company came up with its name by combining the Latin word for sound, "sonus," and the American word "sonny." The company wanted a word that was not found in any language for trademarking reasons. Many within the company questioned the change because of the time spent on making its original name known in the business world, but in 1958, the name was officially changed to Sony Corp. In 1960, Sony launched its U.S. branch. Eight years later, Sony opened a branch in the United Kingdom. The company continued to grow in the 1970s, when it expanded into Spain and France in 1973. German operations were started in 1986.
Sony has a long history of introducing technologies. In 1955, Sony introduced Japan's first transistor radio, the TR-55. Soon after, the company launched a pocket-sized transistor radio. In 1960, Sony released the world's first direct-view portable TV, the TV8-301. The company continued improving the TV and within two years produced the tiniest all-transistor TV. In 1989, Sony released the Handycam, a portable, easy-to-use, 8 mm camcorder. In 2003, the company released the world's first Blu-ray disc player. In 2005, Sony upgraded the Handycam to the High Definition Handycam, creating the world's smallest video camera.
Arguably Sony's most influential product was the Walkman, first released in 1979. The small, lightweight portable tape player revolutionized the way people listened to music, by making at an individual and personal rather than a shared experience. In 1984, Sony followed that initial success with its release of the Discman, the company's first portable CD player. The company's dominance faded as tapes and CDs gave way to digital music, but the Walkman's influence can be seen in modern mobile devices.
Content and Media
Sony is also a major player in the music and film industries through its Sony Music and Sony Pictures divisions. Sony Music began as a joint venture with American label CBS in 1968, but became a wholly-owned subsidiary of Sony in 1988. The company acquired filmmaker Columbia Studios in 1989, along with the rights to its back catalogue of movies, making Sony Pictures Entertainment an immediate force in the industry. These two divisions represent more than diversification on Sony's part, forming part of a deliberate corporate strategy. Controlling its own content ensured that Sony's technological innovations would never be thwarted by lack of industry support, as Blu-ray's triumph over the rival HD-DVD format would illustrate.
Rivals Nintendo and Sega resurrected the gaming console market in the late 1980s, after the spectacular crash of early pioneers such as Atari. Seeing the potential for a new contender with deep pockets and superior technological expertise, Sony formed a new division called Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993 to exploit this market niche. Its Playstation line of consoles and their portable counterparts have proven to be reliable moneymakers for the company.
As of March 2013, Sony employed more than $146,000 people worldwide. The company's year-end revenue in March 2014 was over $7.5 billion, with an operating loss for the year of over $1.2 billion U.S.. Much of that loss came from the company's decision to shut down its troubled PC manufacturing operation, as well as lower-than-expected sales of smartphones and ongoing price pressure from lower-cost rivals in its audio and video divisions. Its mobile communications division, gaming division, imaging-products division and Sony Pictures division remain strong, providing the bulk of the company's projected revenue growth for 2015.
Mark Kennan is a writer based in the Kansas City area, specializing in personal finance and business topics. He has been writing since 2009 and has been published by "Quicken," "TurboTax," and "The Motley Fool."