Konosuke Matsushita (松下 幸之助 Matsushita Kōnosuke, November 27, 1894 – April 27, 1989) was a Japanese industrialist, the founder of Panasonic, a company based in the suburb of Kadoma (on the Keihan line), Osaka in Japan. For many Japanese, he is known as "the god of management". A biography of Matsushita's life called Matsushita Leadership was written by American business management specialist John Kotter in 1998.
Konosuke Matsushita was born on November 27, 1894 in Wakayama prefecture. His father was an affluent landlord in the farming village of Wasa which is a part of city of Wakayama today. Matsushita was born into a well-to-do family but the family became impoverished because his father made some bad investment decisions, primarily in rice speculation. In 1899, the family's entire fortune was gone and anything of value was sold off. The family was forced to move to a cramped three bedroom city apartment where conditions were less than sanitary. There was always a lack of food, clothing, and medical care. Within several years, Matsushita's health declined rapidly and three of his older siblings died due to infectious diseases. Matsushita's formal education ended at the age of nine.
Shortly after Matsushita left school, he was sent away to Osaka to become an apprentice for a hibachi store. Not even a year into his apprenticeship, the hibachi shop failed and Matsushita was left looking for another source of income. It was during this time that the use of electricity was becoming more widespread in Japan and Matsushita felt that this technological discovery would be the dawn of a new era. Matsushita was determined to be a part of this industry and this propelled him to apply for a job with the Osaka Electric Light Company, an electrical utility company. Originally, he was hired to work as a wiring assistant but because of his willingness to learn, he quickly became an electrician. Over the next couple of years, Matsushita’s position rose within the company as he was promoted several times. During this time, Matsushita was introduced to one of his sister's friends and shortly thereafter, he married Mumeno Iue. Matsushita was now responsible for a family and this newfound burden was not lost on him. At the age of twenty-two, Matsushita was promoted to the position of an electrical inspector. Such a position was considered somewhat prestigious as the salary was considerably attractive, given the fact that Matsushita was, to a certain degree, uneducated. It was during this time frame that Matsushita attempted to introduce his boss to an invention of a new and improved light socket that he had perfected in his spare time. However, his boss was less than enthusiastic and Matsushita became predictably deflated. Because Matsushita no longer felt challenged in his career, he soon grew dissatisfied with his job. This became the turning point in his life.
Matsushita Electric Industrial Company
In 1917, Matsushita left Osaka Electric Light Company to set up his own company. Without capital, a formal education, and experience in manufacturing, it would appear the company would fail before it even began. However, whatever resources Matsushita lacked, he made up with ambition and determination. Matsushita set up his shop in the basement of his tenement and with his wife, his brother-in-law and several assistants, he began creating several samples of his product. He attempted to peddle his samples to several wholesalers but was unsuccessful because he did not offer more than one product. Eventually, Matsushita's assistants left his company and he was left with only his wife and brother-in-law, Toshio Iue, who proved to be a capable salesman and manager in his own right. Matsushita would have eventually become bankrupt but he was "saved by an unexpected order for a thousand insulator plates for electric fans.". From there, Matsushita was able to continue producing his light sockets and eventually they became popular as wholesalers began realizing the product was better in quality and less expensive than comparable products in the existing market. Matsushita's products were originally marketed under the name brand of "National" and later moved on to the more recognizable names of Panasonic, Quasar and Technics.
One of Matsushita's best products was his invention of a more efficient battery-powered bicycle lamp. During the 1920s, bicycle lamps were either powered by candles or by oil-burning lamps. These types of lamps were highly inefficient as they usually only lasted for three-hours. Matsushita created an oval lamp that used a battery for power and a lightbulb for illumination. At first, Matsushita could not get wholesalers interested in his products as they were skepical of the concept of using a battery-powered lamp. Matsushita took it upon himself to personally market his products to retail bicycle shops. Once the idea caught on, his sales for the battery-powered bicycle lamps took off.
Matsushita learned a very important lesson in terms of growing a company while he was trying to introduce his bicycle lamp to wholesalers. He realized that even if he had a product that was superior to anything out in the market it would not matter if he could not sell the product. As a result, Matsushita began devising ways to create sales channels for his products by concentrating less on manufacturing and more on building a sales force. This led to a retail store network and finally placed Matsushita's company on the map in Japan's electrical manufacturing and retail industry.
In 1929, Matsushita began setting up a new structure for his company. The company was structured as a parent company and branches of divisions that specialized in a particular product were created. There were three specific products that were being created in Matsushita's company at this time: the bicycle lamp and battery division, the electrical socket division, and the radio division. For each of these products, a national sales department was formed with regional offices established in strategic locations. These regional offices were responsible for the coordination of sales and manufacturing. Products were manufactured based upon the demand for the products. As a result, manufacturing was dependent on sales.
Matsushita and the post-war period
In post-war Japan, the company came under severe restrictions imposed on large Japanese companies by the Allies. Matsushita was in danger of removal as president, but was saved by a favourable petition signed by 15,000 employees.
In 1947, Konosuke lent his brother-in-law Toshio an unutilized manufacturing plant to manufacture bicycle lamps, which eventually became Sanyo Electric.
From 1950 to 1973, Matsushita's company became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of electrical goods, sold under well-known trademarks including Panasonic and Technics. Matsushita stepped down as President of Panasonic in 1961 and was succeeded as president by his son-in-law, Masaharu Matsushita. However, he remained active in the Panasonic operations until his complete retirement in 1973. Since 1954, Matsushita also gained a significant shareholding in manufacturer JVC by forming an alliance.[dead link] It still retains a 50% share today.
In retirement, Matsushita focused on developing and explaining his social and commercial philosophies, and wrote 44 published books. One of his books, entitled “Developing a road to peace and happiness through prosperity”, sold over four million copies.
Awards and honours
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun
- Grand Cordon of the Order of the Paulownia Flowers
- Knight Commander of the Order of the Defender of the Realm (Panglima Mangku Negara which carries the title "Tan Sri")
- Medal with Blue Ribbon
- Medal with Dark Blue Ribbon
- Matsushita Konosuke (1894-1989) His Life & His Legacy: A Collection of Essays in Honor of the Centenary of His Birth by Matsushita Konosuke, PHP Research Institute(1994)
- The Matsushita Perspective, A Business Philosophy Handbook, Published by PHP Institute, Inc. First edition 1997.
- Michi wo hiraku
- "Panasonic History : Setting up his own company)". 2009. Retrieved 2009-08-17.
- Kageyama, Yuri (2012-07-17). "Former Panasonic president Matsushita dies at 99". Associated Press. Retrieved 2012-07-18.
- "Panasonic History : Alliance with Victor Company of Japan (JVC)". 2007. Retrieved 2007-03-17.
- Matsushita Memorial Library.