Leader Of Sony During Betamax Era Passes Away, Aged 80

Harvey Schein, credited with doubling the size of the Sony Corporation of America in the 1970s, during the company’s Betamax era, has died aged 80. Mr Schein became head of Sony America in 1972 when visionary co-founder of the company, Akio Morita, decided the company’s American subsidiary needed an American leader.

While many hail Schein as the first American president of SONAM, he was actually the second. According to Sony.net’s global history, Ernest Schwartzenbach, who was a member of the Smith Barney team when Sony issued ADRs, joined Sony upon his retirement in 1966 but suddenly passed away in 1968.

The six years Schein led the US branch of the company saw the launch of Sony’s Betamax player. The company’s first portable cassette player was superior to it’s competitor VHS in almost every way and so the company went hell for leather promoting it. Unfortunately it was a battle that Sony did not win. Even after a long legal battle with MCA/Universal and Walt Disney (both were worried the Betamax player would result in a pandemic of recording shows from television), VHS became the industry standard and Betamax was gone forever.

During his reign, it is believed that Schein increased company profits from $300 million to $750 million. While it all looked great on paper, Morita was constantly trying to bring Schein around to the Sony way of thinking, which was focusing more on long-term thinking than what he felt was Schein’s affinity for a fast profit. It was this that eventually led to Morita’s suggestion that he give up his position and assume chairmanship instead, purposely creating a distance between Mr Schein and management responsibility, the New York Times reports.

After retiring from Sony in 1977, Schein went on to work for Warner Communications and later became president of the Polygram Coporation.

Schein’s son told the NYT that he died from lymphoma.

Related Links

Full New York Times obituary
Sony Global History article on Harvey Schein