Akio Morita was born in Nagoya, Aichi, Japan. Morita's family was involved in sake, miso and soy sauce production in the village of Kosugaya (currently a part of Tokoname City) on the western coast of Chita Peninsula in Aichi Prefecture since 1665. He was the oldest of four siblings and his father Kyuzaemon trained him as a child to take over the family business. Akio, however, found his true calling in mathematics and physics, and in 1944 he graduated from Osaka Imperial University with a degree in physics. He was later commissioned as a sub-lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Navy, and served in World War II. During his service, Morita met his future business partner Masaru Ibuka in the Navy's Wartime Research Committee.
On May 7, 1946, Ibuka founded Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation, the forerunner of Sony Corporation) with about 20 employees and initial capital of ¥190,000. Ibuka was 38 years old. Morita, 25 years old joined Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Kabushiki Kaisha shortly after its inception, with Morita's family investing in Sony during the early period and being the largest shareholder.
In 1949, the company developed magnetic recording tape and in 1950, sold the first tape recorder in Japan. In 1957, it produced a pocket-sized radio (the first to be fully transistorized), and in 1958, Morita and Ibuka decided to rename their company Sony (derived from "sonus"--Latin for "sound"—and Sonny-boys the most common American expression). Morita was an advocate for all the products made by Sony. However, since the radio was slightly too big to fit in a shirt pocket, Morita made his employees wear shirts with slightly larger pockets to give the radio a "pocket sized" appearance. In 1960, it produced the first transistor television in the world. In 1973, Sony received an Emmy Award for its Trinitron television-set technology. In 1975, it released the first Betamax home video recorder, a year before VHS format came out. In 1979, the Walkman was introduced, making it one of the world's first portable music players. In 1984, Sony launched the Discman series which extended their Walkman brand to portable CD products.
In 1960, the Sony Corporation of America (SONAM, currently abbreviated as SCA) was established in the United States. In 1961, Sony Corporation was the first Japanese company to be listed on the New York Stock Exchange, in the form of American depositary receipts (ADRs), which are traded over-the-counter. Sony bought CBS Records Group which consisted of Columbia Records, Epic Records and other CBS labels in 1988 and Columbia Pictures Entertainment (Columbia Pictures, TriStar Pictures and others) in 1989.
On November 25, 1994, Morita stepped down as Sony chairman after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage while playing tennis. He was succeeded by Norio Ohga, who had joined the company in the 1950s after sending Morita a letter denouncing the poor quality of the company's tape recorders.
Morita was vice chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Japan Federation of Economic Organizations), and was a member of the Japan-U.S. Economic Relations Group, also known as the "Wise Men's Group". He was also the third Japanese chairman of the Trilateral Commission. His amateur radio call sign is JP1DPJ.
In 1966, Morita wrote a book called Gakureki Muyō Ron (学歴無用論, Never Mind School Records), where he stresses that school records are not important to success or one's business skills. In 1986, Morita wrote an autobiography titled Made in Japan. He co-authored the 1991 book The Japan That Can Say No with politician Shintaro Ishihara, where they criticized American business practices and encouraged Japanese to take a more independent role in business and foreign affairs. The book was translated into English and caused controversy in the United States, and Morita later had his chapters removed from the English version and distanced himself from the book.
Morita was awarded the Albert Medal by the United Kingdom's Royal Society of Arts in 1982, the first Japanese to receive the honor. Two years later, he received the prestigious Legion of Honour, and in 1991, was awarded the First Class Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor of Japan. In 1993, he was awarded an honorary British knighthood (KBE). Morita received the International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award from the University of Manitoba in 1987. He was posthumously awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1999.
Morita suffered a stroke in 1993, during a game of tennis. On November 25, 1994, he stepped down as Sony chairman. On October 3, 1999, Morita died of pneumonia at the age of 78.