This year Sony Europe's electronic sales are expected to outstrip those in the United States, Asia or even Japan. The "right infrastructure and the right management tools" are being developed to ensure success, as Di Palframan reports.
Forty people oversee Sony's European operations. They are the modern-day empire-builders. It is their job to pursue Sony's global localisation philosophy, to strengthen its hold on the world's electronics business. So far they have done well. This year Sony Europe's electronics sales are expected to outstrip those of the United States, Asia and even Japan. The products which have made Sony a household name - television, video recorders, compact discs, the Walkman - are forecast to bring in revenues of nearly DM 9 billion in the year to the end of March 1991. That is about 30% of Sony's worldwide electronics sales.
Next year and for the foreseeable future Sony aims to maintain its growth record in electronics of 20% per year on average in Europe. It will do so via traditional markets and by diversification into new technologies and new areas like Eastern Europe. It will also achieve its goal by what Dr Peter Maier, Sony Europe's managing director, calls "rationalisation".
Eager that this should not be interpreted as a Philips-style rationalisation of cutbacks and job losses, he explains that Sony's revolves around greater efficiency. Its eight manufacturing sites in Europe and its 11,500 staff in electronics will be expanded, he says. It is Sony Europe's intention to become self-sufficient in production for Europe and self-sustaining in finance.
Maier's efficiency drive is linked more to creation of "the right infrastructure and the right management tools". The two are interlinked. To get the best from its Europe-wide production plants, distribution facilities, service organisations and sales and marketing operations, Sony has to set common standards. To set those standards, Sony's top managers need access to information.
Maier believes that quality information is essential to make sound decisions. In an organisation the size of Sony Europe that information increasingly is being delivered to computer terminals on managers' desks via a pan-European communications network.
With a management philosophy like Sony's, however, information technology poses a few problems. Global localisation means "self-control", not "central control", says Maier. "We don't want to appear as centralists." But while he believes in local freedom and widespread access to information to make that work, cost and common sense have to dictate who gets access to what and how quickly.
The central database sits on a mainframe computer at Sony's European headquarters in Cologne. Here Maier and his small band of planners keep track of Sony's performance and plan its future strategy. They are in many ways an elite group, yet they are not confined to an ivory tower. They are as reliant on the local offices to provide them with information as the local managers are on them to evaluate that information correctly.
Sony's is a "qualitative culture", says Maier. Information is gleaned from experience, from discussions and from a feel of what is and is not correct. For instance, for short-term (six months) and medium-term (three years) planning Maier insists on face-to-face meetings with his managers.