One-third of startups founded today don’t survive more than 10 years, so when a company turns 100, it’s worth taking a moment to examine its history.
Japanese electronics company Panasonic started out making parts and expanded to producing entire appliances. The company survived World War II, simultaneously benefitting from a postwar abundance period and struggling to navigate the political aftermath. It also weathered various economic crises. Panasonic has pivoted regularly, expanded globally and today continues to look toward the future of technology, including teaming up with Tesla. Here is a brief history of the company’s first century:
Panasonic was founded on March 7, 1918, by Konosuke Matsushita, who was 23 years old at the time. Previously, he’d been living in a two-room tenement with his wife, Mumeno Iue, and her teenage brother, Toshio. After working as an apprentice to hibachi and bicycle makers and working for the Osaka Electric Light Company, Matsushita had come up with a design for a new kind of light socket.
Despite discouragement from his supervisor, Matsushita and his family tried to sell the devices out of their home. They even sold off some of their most valuable possessions to make ends meet. Meanwhile, Matsushita diversified his product offerings, eventually fulfilling an order for electric fan insulation plates.
This gave the trio the means to move into a bigger house, and Matsushita Electric Housewares Manufacturing Works was born. Matsushita quickly expanded the company’s product line to include an attachment plug and a two-way socket. The former recycled the metal screws from used light bulbs. By the end of 1918, the company had grown to 20 employees.
Matsushita was ahead of his time as far as his management approach. When the company was 2 years old and had 28 employees, he formed what he called the “Hoichi Kai,” which translates to “one-step society.” It brought employees together to play sports and participate in other recreational activities.
Another unconventional leadership tactic Matsushita spearheaded was transparency. In the early 1920s, worker retention was a major problem in Japan, first due to competition among firms, then because of economic downturn. Matsushita’s philosophy was one of trust, and he decided to share trade secrets even with new employees to build trust at all levels of the organization. By the end of 1922, the company had 50 employees and a new factory.