few television viewers sit down on their couches to begin channel surfing,
only to find themselves gazing intently at the remoteappreciating
its accessible design. While features such as tactile nibs strategically
placed on the power, SAP and 5 buttons may go unnoticed by
many, such attention to detail is appreciated by those who rely upon it.
This is but one small representation of Panasonics commitment to
addressing the needs of their customers.
Panasonics goal to create accessible resources for people with
disabilities goes farther than simple compliance with the Americans
with Disabilities Act. The companys mission is to create products
for the betterment of societywhile fostering a deep respect for
individuals. Company founder, Konosuke Matsushita, stated it most articulately
when he outlined his management objective: Recognizing our responsibilities
as industrialists, we will devote ourselves to the progress and development
of society and the well-being of people through our business activities,
thereby enhancing the quality of life throughout the world.
Now carrying the torch set ablaze by Matsushita is Panasonics
current CEO, Don Iwatani. Chet Cooper, ABILITY Magazines editor-in-chief,
recently interviewed Iwatani to discuss the future of Panasonic.
Business is People
Although he is no longer with us in body, the spirit of Panasonic's founder
Konosuke Matsushita lives on in his principles, which are widely respected
within the company and around the world. Born November 27, 1894, in a
small village near Osaka, Japan, Matsushita was the youngest of eight
children and enjoyed a comfortable early childhood. His fortunes changed
when his father lost property, and at the age of nine and he was forced
to venture alone to take a job in the big city. A few years later when
Matsushita was considering leaving an apprenticeship at a bicycle shop
to pursue an education, his father gave him the advice that would shape
the course of his future: The skills you are learning will ensure
your future. Succeed as an entrepreneur, and you can hire people who have
In the belief that electricity would become the wave of the future, Matsushita
followed his instincts and applied for a job at the Osaka Electric Light
Company. Remembering his fathers advice about the advantages of
being an entrepreneur, he left the security of his well-paid job in 1917
to set up his own small manufacturing company. Producing an improved electrical
socket he had designed and built in his spare time, he quickly earned
the company a reputation for high quality at low prices.
During a visit to a popular Shinto shrine, Matsushita was struck by the
complementary roles religion and business can play in life. Shortly after
his return he made an announcement that was to guide the company for decades
to come, Our mission as a manufacturer is to create material abundance
by providing goods as plentifully and inexpensively as tap water. This
is how we can banish poverty, bring happiness to peoples lives,
and make this world a better place.
Business is people, was one of his favorite sayings. Matsushitas
work embodied this ideology and he quickly won the support of his employees
by making it clear that he placed a high priority on their interests.
During a presentation on his management philosophy at an international
management conference in New York, his emphasis on management concepts,
fair competition, coexistence and mutual prosperity received a warm response
from everyone in attendance.
Today Panasonic still embraces the principles from Matsushita and is turning
their focus toward bettering life for people with disabilities by addressing
accessibility issues in many of their product lines. One of the
unique aspects of our copiers is that Panasonic was the first and remains
one of the few companies to offer copiers that are accessible to wheelchair
users, notes Paul Wharton, National Marketing Manager for Panasonic
Document Imaging Company.
Eugene Seagriff, Product Accessibility Manager, Panasonic Technologies,
Inc. adds, This year we have two phones featuring our new Voice
Enhancer technology. The phone line only transmits frequencies from about
300 to 3000 Hz. Actual speech has a much wider frequency range. Voice
Enhancer artificially recreates the full speech frequency range from the
incoming signal, making the incoming callers speech easier to understand.
Next year Voice Enhancer will be on a wide variety of Panasonic phones.
With a multitude of resources available, Panasonic turns to outside organizations
to consult on accessibility issues. The relationships that our corporate
outreach program has established with WGBHs National Center for
Accessible Media at Gallaudet University have provided the added benefit
of informed input on product features and direction, comments Bill
Rooney, Director, External Affairs of Panasonic Consumer Electronics.
In discussing the product of one such relationship, Debra Sachs, Director
of Marketing Operations, Panasonic Digital Communications and Security
Company, Wireless Communications Group, outlines the features of the Allure
cell phone, This cell phone is an excellent example of the results
of our Universal Design philosophy. For example, it was the first TTY
compatible cellular phone on the market. It has a variety of visual and
audible ringers, Voice Activated Dialing and commands; it allows user
control of backlight color and contrast, has illuminated buttons with
high-contrast labels, nibs on the 5 and Send keys, a built-in speakerphone
and many other features which will benefit people with a variety of abilities
and in various situations.
Adopting a Universal Design approach fits well within our founders
philosophy of providing service to the public and contributing to society.
We dont intend to become an assistive technology company, but we
do want our mainstream products to be inherently usable by as many people
as possible. Internally, we have codified a number of design elements
and are incorporating them in many products. This helps us to continuously
improve our accessibilitycontinuous improvement being another principle
of our founder, said Seagriff.
Interview with Panasonic's CEO Don Iwatani
Chet Cooper: How long have you been with Panasonic?
Don Iwatani: Ive been with Panasonic nearly 35 years and in the
United States for about 25 years.
CC: Where did you start in the company?
DI: I began at the corporate headquarters in Osaka, Japan, and then I
was sent to the states for a unique overseas training program. I worked
my way through various assignments including positions in the warehouse,
accounting, credit, the order department and eventually became the executive
directors assistant. After one year of office work I was transferred
to the field and worked with the field representative for the sales portion
of my training. I helped to both increase the sales volume at existing
accounts and establish new accounts. That program lasted two years and
then I returned to Japan. I traveled between Japan and the U.S. until
about 14 years ago when I was assigned to the Baltimore Sales Office.
When I went to Los Angeles, I became president of West Coast operations
and then transferred to New Jersey as the COO, head of the consumer group.
Three years ago I became CEO and Chairman of Panasonic in the USA and
South America. Thats a very brief overview of my career.
CC: Where did you attend college?
DI: I went to a private college in Tokyo, named Medde Guokin for a business
degree in economics.
CC: What has been your biggest challenge as CEO?
DI: I became CEO at a challenging time. As you know, the Japanese economy
had been stressed for almost five years. Then as I became CEO, the US
economy had also come upon trying times. The electronics and communication
industries of Japan and the US are interdependent. As a new CEO, my challenges
were very broad and difficult because I was not only concerned with selling
the products, but improving the organization and efficiency of all levels
of jobs in every department throughout the divisions under my direction.
These are my challenges.
CC: How is Panasonic approaching the concept of Universal Design?
DI: The first order of our company philosophy is to design products for
comfortable, intuitive use by everybody. This means tall, short, sitting,
standing, in the dark or light, for the traveling road warrior, for everyone
at work or at play. We are determined to find a way to accommodate the
physical challenges that humans face, such as those who use wheel chairs,
have visual impairments or other disabilities. We are including consistent
ease of use in our new designs as well as updating our existing product
CC: Is it then Panasonics brand strategy to incorporate the Universal
Design concept into all products being developed?
DI: Yes, its an integral part of our brand strategy; we are developing
products for everyone. Our company philosophy comes from Konosuke Matsushita,
our founder, who had the equivalent of only a third grade education. He
started to work at a very young age and had many physical problems. I
can say very simply his philosophy was, Love the people. He
cared for all people, not only customers. Perhaps his poor health made
him more aware of those with disabilities. He was physically very weak
and his health created limitations within his own personal activities.
The Panasonic tradition that he created was to always consider the ability
of every person. This philosophy permeates our corporate culture like
an unwritten tradition. He gave no specific verbal or written directive
regarding this, but he cared for everyone. He was the example that still
effects the tradition and culture of our company.
CC: Has Panasonic designed any technologies that accommodate a specific
DI: There are several. One of them is a cordless telephone we call Voice
in Concert Technology. It is designed to enhance audio frequencies and
deliver a clearer voice transmission than a regular telephone. Every customer
benefits from this enhancement, especially people who are hard of hearing.
We also have a cell phone with very unique features including a range
of six color display selections. This feature is for people who have difficulty
seeing the black and white display. Color can be selected to identify
incoming calls. For instance, you can program all your family in the bright
orange. This allows a person to quickly identify if they wish to interrupt
their activity to take the incoming call. We are also developing a new
copier machine. Recently we introduced a very nice, office-use copier
and multifunction printer. It is designed to accommodate people who are
shorter and those in wheelchairs by offering both top and front command
panels. Everyone appreciates features that increase usability because
these kinds of enhancements also make people more productive. We intend
to improve every item for universal use, which naturally includes people
CC: As voice technology is becoming more widely available in various
products, what is the status for incorporating that technology into a
DI: We are exploring that direction for the future.
CC: How many products does Panasonic manufacture?
DI: There are about 10,000 different models which include things like
the variety of battery sizes from D through AAA, clocks, radios, personal
care items, and computer peripherals. The actual number of products is
about half of that, including products like: telephones, DVDs, televisions
and a wide array of accessories.
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