Exec who steered company into entertainment biz was 81

Tokyo– Former Sony president-CEO Norio Ohga had an enduring effect on the conglom, successfully leading the electronics giant into the entertainment biz with the acquisition of Columbia Pictures, development of the CD format and launch of Sony Computer Entertainment. He died Saturday of multiple organ failure in Tokyo at 81.

Taking over as prexy-CEO in 1982, Ohga signed off on Sony’s acquisition of Col in 1989 for what was considered the sky-high price of $3.4 billion. Under the troubled reign of Peter Guber and Jon Peters, the studio racked up large losses, and Sony’s decision to buy it was widely derided, but in 1996 a new management team under prexy John Calley engineered a B.O. turnaround, and Ohga’s strategy of transforming Sony into both a hardware and software powerhouse again began to look prescient.

Sony Pictures toppers Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal issued this statement: “Norio Ohga was a brilliant and innovative businessman whose visionary leadership had a profound impact on the way people experience entertainment throughout the world.”

Trained as an opera singer, Ohga was recruited by Sony co-founders Masaru Ibuka and Akio Morita while still a student at what is today Tokyo U. of the Arts. After becoming a Sony consultant and adviser in 1953 (he did not formally join the company until 1959), Ohga quickly made his presence felt with his audio and electrical engineering knowledge as well as a keen eye for design and progressive ideas on brand management.

Named general manager of Sony’s Tape Recorder Division in 1959, Ohga was also put in charge of product planning and industrial design. In 1968, he was named head of CBS/Sony Records, the joint venture between Sony and CBS that later became Sony Music Entertainment. In that post, he pushed for the adoption of the 12-centimeter CD format that launched in 1982 and proved a smash, overtaking the LP format in sales by 1987. This triumph led to the development of the MD, CD-ROM and DVD formats that radically changed the consumption not only of music but also of games and pics, as well as revolutionizing computer memory storage and other tech fields.

Ohga also supervised the launch of Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993 and the new company, boosted by its hit PlayStation console and games, became the industry leader.

Ohga turned over the prexy spot to Nobuyuki Idei in 1995 and thereafter served as chairman and CEO until 2000, when he became chairman of the board. He retired from this post in 2003 and assumed the title of honorary chairman, which he held until his death.

Ohga held leadership positions in various industry orgs, including the Electronics and Information Technology Industries Assn. (JEITA), Japan Business Federation (Nippon Keidanren) and Tokyo Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He was also active as both a musician and promoter of classical music in Japan through the Sony Music Foundation, which he was instrumental in establishing.

Among his many honors were Japan’s Grand Cordon of the Order of the Sacred Treasure and France’s Legion of Honor.

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