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Weathering the Storm

Last week I spent the better part of a day in Detroit where I gave a paper on the topic of meeting consumer needs at SAE International’s Convergence 2008 Conference. Reflecting Detroit’s sense of crisis, the session was aptly titled: “Targeting Consumer Needs in the Perfect Storm.” From there, I headed to Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Association’s Industry Forum and a CEA Board of Industry Leaders Meeting.

All of us in the consumer electronics industry have concerns about the economy and consumer spending in the holiday season, but there is no comparison to what Detroit and the auto industry are going through now. They are truly in the eye of the storm.

The paper I gave in Detroit reflected on the core principles of Panasonic’s founder, Konosuke Matsushita, a man with little formal education and almost no wealth, and what drove him as a young entrepreneur to create a company and enter the electronics business.

Konosuke’s basic desire was to see average people enjoy the benefits of technology through products that could meet their needs and add value to their lives, all at an affordable price. This is a tall order, even today, but it is the direction he set for the company that would become Panasonic. And even today, product development for us starts with a deep understanding of consumers’ lifestyles. This focus on improving the lives of consumers is characteristic of virtually all successful brands in the industry today.

In looking at our industry, I marvel that an idea and philosophy, first codified 90 years ago, can still be so relevant and powerful in a world that has changed so much in that time. Indeed, all of us in the consumer electronics industry can be proud of the impact that our products have in improving consumers’ lives.

The role that consumer electronics has played in creating enjoyment for individuals and families does not diminish even in difficult financial times. As long as our industry never loses sight of customer needs, and continues to bring the benefits of new technology to consumers at affordable prices, we can be confident that our businesses will continue to succeed and prosper.

Dr. Paul F. Liao is chief technology officer of Panasonic Corporation of North America.