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The story of Panasonic's founder

Jamaica inspired by growth of company that he founded in Japan

BY NADINE WILSON Sunday Observer reporter wilsonn@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, October 20, 2013    

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OSAKA, Japan — Lacking the wealth, charisma and education of others his age, Konosuke Matsushita's future seemed unpromising as he carried out his menial task in a small bicycle shop in Japan.

It was in that shop that he became an apprentice, at nine years old, and contributing to the survival of his poverty-stricken family, as his father, a farmer, had gambled away the family's home and saving.

But where he lacked the financial wherewithal, the youngster had vision, one of which was to create electric light sockets. His light bulb dream became the catalyst for a vast business empire, which he would later call the Panasonic Corporation; a company that has helped to transform the way of life for many people worldwide.

However, the road from poverty to success was paved with tears, many risks and huge sacrifices which he took in stride as he got closer to his goal. The need to achieve grew more pressing after his father died, and in what was seen as a parting with Japanese tradition, Matsushita made the bold step to leave his first employer at the bicycle shop, after six years, to work for an electric power company.

According to the culture at the time, an employee should never leave the services of his first employer. But then, the city of Osaka, where he lived, had just started introducing the concept of electricity, electric trains and bright bikes, and the then 15-year-old was caught up in the euphoria and wanted to make a contribution to this new way of life.

His enthusiasm for the job resulted in his quick promotion from a wiring assistant and eventually to a lucrative post as an inspector. He then enrolled in night school and, at the age of 20, entered into an arranged marriage. Although his life had become fairly stable, he decided to step out on a limb and introduced the idea of creating light sockets to his boss, who was completely unimpressed with the idea.

The young man, feeling somewhat deflated but refusing to let go of his dreams, quit his job and decided to form his own company in 1917, so he could manufacture the products himself.

His business was operated from the little shack he occupied with his wife and seemed destined for failure from the beginning, as he had very few, if any, buyers at all. His wife was forced to pawn their belongings often, including her kimono. On the brink of bankruptcy, he decided to distribute his electric lamps on consignment to bicycle dealers so as to market them to cyclists who at the time were mostly using wax candles to light their way. Eventually, his bicycle lamp became a hot-ticket item, so much so that even ordinary householders started buying them to light their homes.

As his business began to stabilise, Matsushita secured more funds to invest in the manufacturing of other products including radios, televisions, refrigerators, electronic heaters, washing machines, stereo equipment, beauty and health-care products and, of more recent times, eco-friendly solutions and restaurants. While many companies went under during the Second World War, his business held firm, but with its fair share of battering.

The company was called Matsushita Electronics at first, but there was a name change to Panasonic corporation in 2008, in keeping with the company's global brand name Panasonic, and its brand slogan "to create a better life, a better world".

"The mission of the manufacturer is to create material abundance, by providing goods as plentiful and inexpensive as tap water. This is how we can banish poverty and bring happiness into people's life and turn this world into a paradise," Matsushita told his employees during a meeting to commemorate the company's success on May 5, 1932.

Although Matsushita died in 1989 at 94 years old, his business continued to grow under this guiding philosophy which has helped Panasonic to easily transition into other global marketplaces such as the United States of America, China and North Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Latin America, and even Caribbean countries like Jamaica, where eco-solutions are in high demand given escalating energy costs.

"The aim of Panasonic is to improve the way of people around the world," said assistant general manager of brand strategy for Panasonic Latin America, Mio Yamanaka, who added that the company "is committed to offering a better life and a better world to customers in many environment, including the community, the home and businesses".

Panasonic television, sound systems, refrigerators, corded and cordless phones have contributed to creating a comfortable lifestyle for Jamaicans and through

its exclusive Jamaican distributor of inverter AC, the Appliance Traders Limited (ATL), Panasonic has also been offering HIT PV solar panels. Last year, the global conglomerate partnered with ATL and Sandals Resorts International to create an eco-village at Sandals Montego Bay that boasts an entirely self-sufficient power system, thereby paving the way for eco-tourism in the country.

But Panasonic's plans for Jamaica are just beginning, it seems. "In the future, we are introducing LED lighting in Jamaica. With ATL, we feel it is the best place in the Caribbean to introduce this technology," assured Maria Elena Alvarez, associate director for corporate communication at Panasonic Latin America.

The company believes that businesses would be able to reduce their power consumption by at least 47 per cent through the use of LED lighting and in so doing, help to preserve the environment. This is because LED bulbs use less wattage than fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, which are now being widely used by businesses and householders.

The next step for the company will be to provide more energy-saving services to Jamaica and this process has already begun with the signing of a memorandum of understanding last May, that will see ATL expanding the distribution of alternative energy solutions through the Jamaica Public Service eStore outlets.

Panasonic Corporation currently has 634 companies worldwide and has been ranked among the top four Best Global Green brands in the electronic industry by the US brand consultant company Interbrand. In order to commemorate the achievements and contribution of Panasonic, the Konosuke Matsushita Museum was built in Osaka, Japan in 1968.

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