Norio Ohga, Who Led Sony During Columbia Purchase, Dies at 81

Former opera singer championed the development of the CD and ran the company when it purchased Columbia Pictures

Former Sony president and chairman Norio Ohga, who helped the company become an entertainment powerhouse, has died at 81 in Tokyo.

The cause of death was multiple organ failure.

Ohga led the company from 1982 to 1995, a period during which Sony introduced compact discs to the market and acquired Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion. He retired in 2003 as honorary chairman.

"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 and chief executive Howard Stringer said.

Ohga, a former opera singer, championed the development of the compact disc while heading a music division for the company. He became president and CEO of the parent company in 1982, the same year that Sony sold the world’s first CD.

Seven years later Sony purchased Columbia Pictures in a deal that raised eyebrows for the price. The management of Peter Guber and Jon Peters during the initial years of Japanese ownership was considered less than successful, not to mention costly, but the division became more lucrative under subsequent leadership.

Sony also launched Sony Computer Entertainment in 1993 under Ohga’s reign. That division has generated major revenue for the company through the sale of PlayStation consoles and games.  

Ohga handed over the president’s reins to Nobuyuki Idei in 1995, and shared chief executive duties with him three years later. By 2000, Idei had also taken on duties as chairman and sole CEO; Ohga’s retirement came a few years later.

Born Jan. 29, 1930, Ohga graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1953, and studied music in Berlin before joining Sony in 1959. He became president of CBS Sony Records in 1970 shortly after turning 30.

He is survived by his wife, Midori.