THROUGH SWITZERLAND TO THE WORLD (1) Gregory W.D. Glanzmann
Little more than a decade after its foundation as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (TTK) in Tokyo, a young and growing Japanese company in the post-war days made its move out into the world. Co-founder Aki Morita initiated the company renaming itself to Sony in 1958 to make it more recognizable to the international market. It was a time when the term Made in Japan was still widely seen as a mark of cheap and poor quality products rather than one of reliable technology. The latter, however, was the kind of image Morita set out to achieve for Sony and Japan.
Key to the international expansion of the company was the hiring of the right international sales employees. These proved hard to find, as for fresh graduates the young company simply could not yet guarantee a safe and stable job.It would appeal to people who ware ready for a challenge. For some the challenging opportunity to work on the mission to change the Made in Japan perception was tempting.. The vision documented in Sony’s founding prospectus “[t]o reconstruct Japan […] through dynamic technological and manufacturing activities”, inspired the 29-year-old Kazutoyo Komatsu. Sony was pursuing that vision by developing, building and selling goods of its own. This matched Komatsu’s idea of a Japan that would increase its exports of quality goods. He ad others were hired into the International Division and even 80 years later he remembers the TTK office with its creaking wooden stairs. But he did not stay there for long. The new employees were soon sent off to the US and Europe to conduct market research and prepare the setup of offices. For Komatsu the destination was Europe.
Foundation of Sony Overseas S.A. (SOSA)
Komatsu’s mission during his first 5-month trip end of 1959 was to find the right place to establish Sony’s European subsidiary. Komatsu based himself in Zurich and traveled throughout Europe to cover 25 countries, sometimes visiting up to five countries per day collecting information on potential markets.
He found that “almost all these countries were imposing strict import restrictions, so-a long-term sales expansion plan was necessary”. The decision was to have a representative office based in Zurich, Switzerland. Besides Germany, it was the only country that was open to trading freely. He also discovered that Sony goods already being traded on the black market in Italy and Spain at the time were making their way through Switzerland. This was valuable information for planning the goods’ future routes. With its location in the centre of Europe, Switzerland was also well suited to further explore opportunities throughout Europe, which was going to be one of the subsidiaries main tasks.
After getting the necessary endorsement in Tokyo, Komatsu departed for Switzerland a second time in March 1960; this time to set up Sony’s first European representative office in Zurich in an empty café located close to the Paradeplatz and in the proximity of their representing company Siber Hegner. Komatsu became the first General Manager of the office and together with two Japanese employees Reiji Suzuki and Shiro Koriyama and a Swiss secretary worked on getting import licenses for each of the European countries and to enable the foundation of sales subsidiaries there.
In the late summer of 1960 Komatsu in Zurich was joined by Sony Akio Morita to finalize the preparations and sign the founding documents. Dr. Eric Lederer of Baker McKenzie Zurich advised them on founding and other legal matters.
As Komatsu was well versed in law, he attended these meetings in the century old red-brick building of the law firm in Zurich together with Morita. He remembers that as a former law student himself, his mind wandered in fascination as he looked at the old books lining the antique shelves. This caused him to miss parts of the important conversations making him to struggle when writing his report for Morita later.
It was later in December that year that the foundation documents of Sony Overseas S.A. (SOSA) were signed. The choice of location for the legal entity was Zug, as Morita explains in his book: “[W]e based it in Zug, Switzerland, on the advice of a friend who pointed out that the tax situation in Zug was very favorable.” Hence Sony became the first Japanese company officially registered in Zug on December 22, 1960. At the time the city had around 20000 inhabitants and more than 500 registered foreign companies.
SOSA was an important base for Sony’s European expansion efforts.. General Manager Komatsu, his wife and their two-year old son moved into an apartment in Zug and the other staff members lived in company housing.
SWITZERLAND AND JAPAN 1864-2014 150Years of Official Relations
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