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The Konosuke Matsushita Museum in Osaka provides a great insight into the history and philosophy of the Panasonic corporation, which started life in a small house-cum-factory as Matsushita Electric Devices Manufacturing Works in 1918. Here is a look at some of the products from the early days of Panasonic, with some quotations from the great industrialist, who was the leader of the company in various roles until his death at 94 years in 1989.
Matsushita started working at age 9 in Osaka at a bicycle shop. He left at age 15 to join the Osaka Electrical Light company, which at rejected his first invention: this light socket. He quit the OEL to start his own company with his new wife and sister-on-law.
Matsushita’s next invention (1918) was an adaptor for a light socket that allowed users to use the outlet for two separate devices. As his company began to grow, he started developing his “humble merchart” philosophy.
“No matter how large Matsushita Electric might become in the future, maintain the attitude of being a humble merchant. Consider yourself to be employed in a small shop. Be simple, frugal and humble as carry out your work.”
In 1923, Matsushita released one of his first signature products: the bicycle light. It was a massive failure. It was then he learnt the value of marketing and merchandising, giving away free samples to traders for them to demonstrate to cyclists – this proved a succesful strategy.
In 1927, Matsushita adopted the National brandname. The last product released before this switch was this iron. Matsushita encouraged his customers to speak freely about these products, believing that criticism was more valuable than praise.
“People will sometimes criticise us and I regard this as a rare opportunity for improvement. Criticism will cause one to take another look at what one is doing and this will lead to improvements being made.”
Across 1929 and 1930, National released this electric heater and thermostat.
The first National product, a battery-powered lamp, was supported by print advertising. Despite its drive to promote National products, Matsushita retained an interesting view on profit generation.
“Making a profit for oneself is not the fundamental reason for engaging in business. One does business because there is a social need to do so. If you don’t clearly grasp this sense of mission you will not succeed in business.”
National’s first radio, released in the middle of the Great Depression in 1931. According to the Museum curator, Matsushita did not downsize any staff during the Depression, though he did motivate his staff to work tirelessy to sell inventory. Here are his views on customer relations:
“I was taught to bow whenever I went to meet a valued customer. I was told to treat customers as though they were precious, the most precious things in the world. This was the basis of my education. I wholeheartedly believe it is essential to treat customers with utmost care and consideration.”
In 1936, National released its first electric fan. With Japan then at war with the Allies, Matsushita’s factories were turned over to the Imperial Government. Upon the return of normal operations following Japan’s surrender in 1945, Matsushita’s business was in need of total rebuilding.
Click here to read Part 2, where we look at how Matsushita modernised the National and Panasonic brands and began exporting worldwide.