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Sony's Ohga, credited with developing CD, dies

FILE - In this May 1991 file photo, former president and chairman of Sony, Norio Ohga, holds a Sony Mini Disc in New York. Sony says Ohga, credited with developing the compact disc, has died Saturday, April 23, 2011. He was 81. Sony Corp. Chairman Howard Stringer said Ohga helped redefine the Japanese manufacturer not only as an electronic hardware company but helped it also expand into software or entertainment. FILE - In this May 1991 file photo, former president and chairman of Sony, Norio Ohga, holds a Sony Mini Disc in New York. Sony says Ohga, credited with developing the compact disc, has died Saturday, April 23, 2011. He was 81. Sony Corp. Chairman Howard Stringer said Ohga helped redefine the Japanese manufacturer not only as an electronic hardware company but helped it also expand into software or entertainment. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
By Yuri Kageyama
AP Business Writer / April 23, 2011

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TOKYO—Former Sony president and chairman Norio Ohga, credited with expanding the company from electronics hardware to software and entertainment and developing the compact disc, died Saturday at age 81.

Ohga, who led the company from 1982 to 1995, died of multiple organ failure in Tokyo, Sony said.

Some decisions made during Ohga's presidency, such as the $3.4 billion purchase of Hollywood studios Columbia Pictures, were criticized as unwise and costly at the time. But Ohga's focus on music, films and video games as a way to enrich the electronics business helped create Sony's success in his era.

"We are always chasing after things that other companies won't touch," Ohga said in a 1998 interview with The Associated Press. "That is a big secret to our success."

The flamboyant music connoisseur steered his work through his love of music. A former opera singer, Ohga insisted the CD be designed at 12 centimeters (4.8 inches) in diameter -- or 75 minutes worth of music -- to store Beethoven's Ninth Symphony in its entirety.

Shattering the stereotype of the staid Japanese executive, the debonair Ohga was never shy, his hair neatly slicked back, his boisterous mannerisms exuding the fiery yet naive air of an artist. His persona added a touch of glamour to Sony's image at a time when Japan had global ambitions.

"It is no exaggeration to attribute Sony's evolution beyond audio and video products into music, movies and game, and subsequent transformation into a global entertainment leader to Ohga-san's foresight and vision," Sony Corp. Chairman Howard Stringer said Saturday using the Japanese honorific.

The company started amid the destruction and poverty after World War II and built itself on the popularity of transistor radios, the Walkman, the Trinitron TV, the CD -- shaping the history of modern electronics.

Sony has encountered difficulty in recent years, as it fell behind in flat-panel TVs to rivals like Samsung Electronics Co. of South Korea, as well as in digital music players to Apple Inc.

Sony remains unique in having a Hollywood studio, a music recording business, and the PlayStation video-game unit, despite some critics' complaints that it has never fully realized the benefits of owning both electronics and entertainment divisions.

Since about 2000, Ohga stopped being involved in Sony's day-to-day business.

He is survived by his wife, Midori. Sony said a private wake will be held later.