Sony: The unfortunate undoing – A retrospective

Leaving Sony after 8 years of service was a bittersweet departure. My story is probably similar to many who left Sony before me. I wanted to be part of a brand that produced products that changed many lives – the walkmans, the TVs, the Playstations. Sony seemed to be one of the best brands to work for. Being young and ambitious, I was selected to join. I was proud and happy to be part of this beloved company, a global entity, a premium brand.

Then reality set in. I saw the red tapes, the brick walls, the Office Space scenes, the politics. I met people whom I wondered how they got the job in the first place. I vowed not to be like them. And luckily there are many opportunities within Sony. I moved to other divisions that were growing and more innovative. I thrived and excelled in my positions. I progressed from an individual contributor to a people manager, expanded my influence from local to global. I built new teams from the ground up and worked with people who shared the same passion. I operated at a high level with quality, efficiency and excellence.

Then more reality set in. Sony’s years of losses forced the company to downsize. People became numbers on excel spreadsheets. And after all, Sony is a Japanese company and it is human nature to save their own. Groups of people outside of Japan were let go regardless of their talents. My group was no different. Numbers on spreadsheets would meet its fate – erased.

How did Sony come to this? Here is what I see from my point of view:

  1. Silos – Sony just doesn’t have a structure to support collaboration from all corners of the company. Every division is winning or losing on its own. Any collaboration is done formally – budgeted and planned. No spontaneity.
  2. Core values and culture – company’s core values are not engrained in employees. As a result, these values are interpreted differently from person to person, department to department. Culture is different in every department – making any collaboration hard.
  3. Lots of ideas, nowhere to go – There were many people with great ideas. However, there was no effective outlet for them to materialize. There were many failed attempts – online forms on Share Point, monthly emails. None of them was effective. And people were just too busy with their own jobs. They still needed to meet their department’s KPI and not really encouraged to contribute.
  4. Pride – “the worst sin is pride” I think also applies to a company. Sony thinks it is a “premium” brand and focuses too much on being “premium”. They rolled out overpriced products with closed platforms for many years.
    • Take the PlayStation for example. PlayStation 3 was a failure because of Sony taking the high road and introducing a ‘hard to develop for’ software platform. The recent turnaround of Playstation 4 success was built on them listening to what the game developers and gamers want.
    • Because of their past as a successful electronics manufacturer, they focused too much on excellent hardware manufacturing and neglected to build sophisticated software ecosystems.
  5. Slow to change – Being slow to change is probably one of the worst qualities a technology company can have. Sony simply did not have the desire to change its old ways of working. Their unit of change was counted in months, quarters and years. Other successful technology companies are counting them in days.

I started a new job for over a month and can finally comprehend how I feel about the company I spent almost a decade of my life working for. I miss it. I miss the structure, the strive for excellence. I miss the hours working to perfect the quality of the work I was putting out. I miss the perks of being a Sony employee – the company discounts, the benefits and that working for Sony was a conversation starter. But most of all, I miss the people I met in all walks of life and from all corners of the world. I’d work for this company again despite the problems it has. I hope Sony turns around. I hope to work for this once beloved company again.

Sony Japanese Headquarters in Shinagawa

Sony Japanese Headquarters in Shinagawa

3 thoughts on “Sony: The unfortunate undoing – A retrospective

  1. I worked at Sony for 7 years and I can relate to what you are saying.

    I feel like the silos were a huge problem and what exacerbated the problem was them letting go of the heart of Sony, the people, and letting some real jerks into the company. There was an Apple exec who came in to be my boss (after they sent my beloved boss back to Japan) and he was a horrible person to me, so openly a jerk, and I called him to the carpet and HR did nothing to right it, but to protect this new Apple executive that they hired. He destroyed everything that was built and created before he came, and made something else up. I left due tot he abuse, although it broke my heart to leave a company that I was so dedicated to…and I struggled for years (I considered suing Sony for their blind eye to this executive’s abuse to me; but I know what goes around comes around) and to no surprise, a few short years later, that same department that was thriving and when he came in, is obliterated and no longer exists.

    Another item was content – we were always first to market with THE best product (eg Reader, ultra thin laptops etc…) but we had NO CONTENT. It was heart breaking.

    After years of suffering in other companies, after Sony, I have finally found a place that is like what Sony used to be when I first started with them. A place where I am part of a team, people that respect one another, are incredibly talented and also incredibly humble and kind, like a family. We all work hard for a common goal. We have only two company rules… ‘don’t be a jerk’ (AMEN!!!) and ‘work in the best interest of the company’. The values are to be an entrepreneur, to be truth seeking (again AMEN!) and to be an eternal optimist! You are so right that Sony needed to get under one banner with it’s values and culture. Don’t worry about losing Sony perks. Many other companies have perks too. At Pluralsight, we have unlimited PTO and other great benefits that are just as amazing.

    One piece of advice if you care for it, is to get into business for yourself. While I struggled with lame J-O-Bs. I’ve always had fulfilling side businesses. There, I could help create the world the way I wish it could be. People working together for a common goal. Helping others and one another as we journey through life.

    Best to you in your next chapter in life! May you write an amazing story.

  2. One more thing. Advertising… every time we had something awesome, nobody knew about it… it’s like we wanted most of our products to be the best kept secrets… it’s like you didnt know about it unless you were in the company and even then you might not know about it!

  3. Hi Arlene,

    Good points. There were definitely some bad things going on in SEL SD. when I moved to the Bay, the culture was better and people were more serious. I’d say my group under Brian was both fun and professional. But how Tokyo operates is the same, despite how we well we do. I considered really hard moving to Tokyo HQ when they closed the SF dept but eventually declined. I didn’t think I would be effective there or it’d be very hard.

    My new company seems good so far. Luckily, it’s an employee’s market now. And thanks for the advice.

    – Jony

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