Norio Ohgam, Pioneer of the CD and Former Chairman of Sony Dead at 81

Posted by at 11:28 pm on April 24, 2011

Former Sony chairman and president Norio Ohga died on Saturday of multiple organ failure at the age of 81. The executive, initially trained as an opera singer, was best known for having led the team that along with Philips helped develop the CD in 1980. Its 74-minute running time was famously developed to meet Ohga’s goal of putting all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on a single disc and helped grow a market for long albums.

Ohga is also widely credited with helping Sony’s push into gaming in the early 1990s, eventually leading to the PlayStation in 1995.

Although not always directly attributed to him, much of the company’s current image as a design-first technology firms came from his direction. He moved Sony away from mostly functional designs towards the visually distinct creations the company is known for today. Many have credited him for being forward-thinking by realizing that commoditization meant Sony couldn’t stand out solely on specifications.

“At Sony, we assume that all products of our competitors have basically the same technology, price, performance and features,” he was quoted as saying. “Design is the only thing that differentiates one product from another in the marketplace.”

Ohga’s developments have had a ripple effect on much of the industry, accelerating the development of computer storage through the data CDs that followed the audio versions and creating a market for high-end audio.

Ohga first began working with Sony as a consultant in 1953 after complaining about the quality of one of its early tape recorders. He joined full-time in 1959 after company founder Akio Morita convinced him he would be more effective in a business role.

Current CEO Sir Howard Stringer in a statement Saturday paid tribute to Ohga, who he worked with from 1997 until Ohga retired in 2003. Stringer described it as an “honor” to have worked for the Sony veteran and considered Ohga responsible for much of Sony’s current prominence.

“By redefining Sony as a company encompassing both hardware and software, Ohga-san succeeded where other Japanese companies failed,” he said. “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.”

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