Nobuyuki Idei, Sony Boss Who Elevated PlayStation, Dies at 84

Nobuyuki Idei, former chief executive officer of Sony Group Corp., has died of liver failure. He was 84.

Idei, who joined the company in 1960 and served as CEO from 1998 to 2005, passed away June 2 in Tokyo, the company said in a statement.

“Idei was surely a visionary leader who was able to make management decisions looking 20 to 30 years into the future,” said Atsushi Osanai, a professor at Waseda Business School, who once worked in Sony’s television business.

The former CEO represented a generation of executives who spent the start of their careers under the direct tutelage of Sony founder Akio Morita. Charged with finding new ways for the company to grow abroad, Idei cultivated an aura of sophistication and could be seen hobnobbing with Hollywood executives sporting a white blazer. He used to tell reporters that his generation could hold its own overseas, without any inferiority complex, thanks to the efforts of his predecessors.

Idei held leadership roles in Sony’s audio, home video and creative communication divisions, according to the statement. During his stint as CEO, Sony advanced its PlayStation gaming business and introduced the second generation of the console that has since become the company’s most important product line.

He led Sony’s transition to becoming an IT company, tying its electronics products with the internet just as it was becoming a global phenomenon. His achievements at Sony include the start of the VAIO personal computer brand, a joint venture with Ericsson on mobile phones and the So-net internet provider business, where current CEO Kenichiro Yoshida learned how to run a company.

“The experiences and learning I gained there were a turning point in my career and life, and in many ways connect directly to my management of Sony today,” Yoshida said in the statement. “During his seven years as CEO from 1998, Mr. Idei made an immense contribution to Sony’s evolution as a global company.”

But Idei’s years at Sony were not all rosy, especially the later period when Apple Inc. took over as the leading consumer electronics pioneer with the release of the iPod and iTunes. Sony was forced to trim losses and halt its more experimental robotics businesses developing products like the AIBO robot dog and Qrio humanoid. Idei faced further criticism for his choice of successor, Sir Howard Stringer, whose tenure deepened Sony’s troubles. 

After leaving Sony, Idei started his own consultancy, Quantum Leaps Corp., focusing on finding and financing promising corporations and tech projects. He was also a member of the General Motors Co. and Baidu Inc. boards. —Bloomberg