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On Meeting Mr. Matsushita

News of the passing of Masaharu Matsushita, 99, longtime president and later chairman of Matsushita chairman of Electric Industrial Company – which was renamed Panasonic, made me remember the only time I met him.

Matsushita took the last name of his father-in-law and founder of the company, Konosuke Matsushita, when he got married, a known custom in Japan.

It was obvious that the respect company executives had for Masaharu Matsushita for his contributions to the industry and the company, and aura around the Matsushita name, was close to that of its founder.

The meeting was during a spring line show for retail buyers and the media at a big, upscale resort in Scottsdale, Ariz. during the 1980s. This was during my pre-TWICE days, when I edited the CE section of Home Furnishings Daily.

The main event – or so I thought – was a walk-through of the entire Panasonic line, along with its Quasar and Technics brands, by top U.S. sales and product managers the evening of the first day we landed and the next morning.

Boy, was I mistaken. The real highlight was a press conference with Masaharu Matsushita. The event was staged as if we were about to question a head of state: there were about 15 or more reporters sitting around a “U’ shaped table covered in Panasonic blue tablecloths and facing a small table for Mr. Matsushita (as everyone called him), an interpreter and a senior executive – Matsushita’s president I think.

I was told by a senior Panasonic PR person that the first round of questions would be asked by the reporter’s seniority, the first being David Lachenbruch of TV Digest (now Consumer Electronics Daily) and TWICE’s Bob Gerson being number two. I think I was fourth. I was told after that we could just raise our hands and it would be run like a normal press event.

When he arrived all the Japanese and U.S. company executives stood and applauded, I think. I guess we ink-stained wretches of the press (the web wasn’t around and the event wasn’t taped) also kind of stood up too.

That never happened before or since, even when I met Sony founder Akio Morita.

All the Panasonic and Matsushita execs had on dark suits with white shirts. I remember that because Mr. Matsushita came in wearing a light colored sports jacket – maybe a light blue one.

Behind Matsushita, his interpreter, and the U.S. president stood three or four senior U.S. execs that previously showed us the new line. Behind the “U” shaped table were at least a half-dozen U.S. and Japanese product managers.

All of the assembled execs seemed uneasy. They were around in case Mr. Matsushita, or the U.S. president, could not answer a product or technology question they had better be ready to answer it correctly.

My memory is hazy about what my question was for Mr. Matsushita – maybe it was about the yen dollar exchange rate problems (What problem? Back then the rate was about 200 yen to the dollar!) or maybe a question on VHS-C camcorders. Memory fails me. I do remember he made an opening statement and his answers to our questions were specific.

After about an hour the session was over and Mr. Matsushita was escorted out of the room by a phalanx of company execs.

A few minutes the media was asked to follow Mr. Matsushita outside through the same door. Waiting for us was Mr. Matsushita, his interpreter and assembled execs.

We were introduced by name to the company chairman, shook hands and, in typical Japanese practice, presented with a small gift (a pretty nice pen I believe), thanking us for attending the buyer show and meeting.

Looking back I can only imagine how nervous the assembled execs, and maybe a few media members might have been, if we were meeting Mr. Matsushita’s father in law instead.