Tyler Suiters:

Hey everybody. I'm Tyler Suiters with the Consumer Technology Association. We are the owners and the producers of CES, the most influential tech event in the world. We are here to help you get CES ready. The all digital show, that's a twist for 2021, runs January 11th through the 14th. And as always, CES will help exhibitors connect with existing and new audiences from all around the world. But for 2021, you'll get a new immersive experience. We're giving you a front row seat to discover and see the latest tech, and it will be a highly personalized CES for you. We want to bring a global event to the comfort and maybe most importantly, the safety of your own home or office. The topics though, you know what they are, the game changers in the tech world, digital health, applications of AI, vehicle tech, smart cities and resilience, 5G, just to name a handful.

Tyler Suiters:

And today, a conversation with a company that has been at CES since the very start. Sony was at the first CES back in 1967 and the company continued to make waves at the most recent CES in 2020. Remember all the news coverage and attention on the VISION-S, that's Sony's concept car. Well, what's up their sleeve for 2021? What are the innovations? The unveilings they have in store for CES? We'll talk about that plus the company's global role in terms of social responsibility may be more heightened than ever given the events of 2020. Today, a conversation with Sony Electronics North America's head of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility. That's on this edition of CES Tech Talk.

Tyler Suiters:

With us today is a familiar face, well to us, and probably a familiar voice to you. Cheryl Goodman is head of corporate communications and corporate social responsibility at Sony Electronics North America. Cheryl, it is great to have you back with us, my friend.

Cheryl Goodman:

I'm happy to bring my face and my voice to this podcast.

Tyler Suiters:

What a bizarre time right now and even as the months go on, ever since the original shutdown because of the pandemic, although we get accustomed to the change, it is so vastly different. What are the new realities that you're seeing at Sony for a global technology company that depends on a global customer base and global suppliers? How are you making life something close to normal right now as a company?

Cheryl Goodman:

What a great question. And I think it's definitely that ongoing dialogue is how do we not only survive, but thrive in these challenging times? And what we now heading into the six month mark? And at some point at the six month mark, if not earlier, Sony was able to really recalibrate quite quickly. And I think, the most important thing that has to be said is that this is a people issue first. A lot of lives have been lost, continue to be lost. A lot of frustration that's revealed social injustice. These are absolutely trying times, but all hardship reveals opportunity. Aside from all the tragic incidents that have happened, we are looking for the silver linings and as a company that will turn 75 next year, no stranger to surviving challenges, whether it was 9/11 or the tsunamis that struck our factories or any number of things that we are on our feet and we're putting our people first. That's where our focus remains.

Cheryl Goodman:

Obviously the business is really what we do, it's how we pay people. It's how we provide excellent services, goods and platforms to the community, but it's our people that make that happen. And so in this time, Tyler, what we've really focused on is our people getting what they need, whether that's at home in a home office configuration, whether that's emotional support as you're trying to balance elderly parents and young children afoot, meanwhile, while trying to drive a high KPI digital experience in a new world. There are so many dynamics happening, but the net net is we're focused on the silver linings and some of those silver linings, not withstanding digital experiences only, we're broadening our audiences thanks to some of these limitations. We're optimists, hard workers, people first and that's our orientation for today.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. And innovators through and through. No question about that, Cheryl. What about dealing with, I'll call it a remote market. I think there are all kinds of terms you could use, but you're not necessarily right there with customers, with your B to B partners, with suppliers, the global chain. How do you do that when you don't have that face to face touchpoint? How do you adjust as a company in marketing, in messaging, when you have to be so nimble, but let's face it, you all are a global behemoth with a global market.

Cheryl Goodman:

Yeah. It's a great question. And just to tease out, focus on that question is managing relationships. At the end of the day, all good business is based on relationships. And we define that generally in a face to face configuration. Well, that's not really something that we're able to do these days. And so I would say that the infrastructure and depth and the relational equity that has built with partners and colleagues over the years has served us really, really well. I'd say we are challenged, but again, looking for those silver linings, sometimes not jumping on a plane to get to that next meeting while sad, because of minus out cocktails hours and other fun things. That relational equity is there and that translates in hard times. Not withstanding though, new opportunities still can be had. I think, the good thing about this are these tough times, is we're in this together.

Cheryl Goodman:

Sounds trite. It's been said a thousand times, but we truly are experiencing this together. We are colleagues in crisis. We're all dealing with how to show up the best way for our customers, for our employees and for the marketplace. And so hopefully I answered your question in terms of relational. How we keep that going in terms of business, we're really looking at opportunities that are suited to this new economy. There are some companies that are really going to show up well and really shine here. If you've had your infrastructure in play and a digital infrastructure, this is your time to stretch the muscle, so to speak, to stress test it. And we've in the early days of COVID, whether it was internal communications or external, we've really pulled every lever in our master controls on how we're going to show up digitally.

Cheryl Goodman:

And there's been some fantastic learnings. And I would say in absence of this crisis, we may not have deployed some of these great technologies as soon as they have been deployed. And the net net is, is I believe when we all come to a close on this, when that vaccine is found and when we get back to quote unquote normal, we're going to have some amazing tools that we have stress tested in this crisis time that's going to move the industry forward and hasten those great things that are happening in technology, that's happening in consumer electronics, that's happening within the walls of Sony Electronics, whether that's in the walls of someone's home or in the walls of down in Shinagawa Station, in Tokyo or in San Diego where we're headquartered. That innovation is boundless and we turn crisis into opportunity.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah, that's a great way to put it, Cheryl. The fact that innovation moves so much more quickly during a time like this or it can under the right circumstances and with the right initiative and inertia. And we've seen that from Sony too. What are the ways, let's get into the technology now, what are the ways that you see Sony really contributing for all of us at different touch points during the shutdown and beyond, whether it's helping us with remote work or kids with remote school or getting the products we need to our homes or even adapting to a more broad digital lifestyle with friends and family and parents. What is it that's really impressed you from the inside that you're seeing Sony do?

Cheryl Goodman:

Well, I think it really boils down to leadership. To get to the root of your question, we know that necessity is the mother of all invention. We had this profound need in early March to really connect with all of our employees across the United States and Canada and in Mexico. This was an imperative. The world was we were very uncertain. Every time I turned on the news and our employees knew that this would be a big impact to their day to day. Did that mean they were still boarding the planes? What was happening? And so in terms of communications technology, we really immediately in tandem with leadership, took out our best ways of tools and we're leaders in broadcast, we're leaders in capturing imaging, disseminating those images and really connecting people.

Cheryl Goodman:

On the technology front, having a really good infrastructure digitally for a workforce that by the way, is all over the US. We're a global organization so it's not our first rodeo in terms of reaching out to those that aren't physically in front of us. I would also say too, is that a policy at Sony North America is all of our workers are granted a flexible work schedule. Many of our employees had already been working flexibly so we had planted these seeds that would allow us to be nimble. And that means making sure that everything from the security side, to the way that workstations were set up, to processes and protocols, thank goodness a lot of that was already in play.

Cheryl Goodman:

How did that translate to the customer? How does that translate to the marketplace? That was the challenge. When all this came down, National Association of Broadcasters was around the corner, we're white knuckling it. How are we going to show up for this? We're looking at the whole trade show season, now all the way to CES and we're thinking, how are we going to do this? And so we have a few notches under our belt in this digital dissemination, this digital delivery.

Tyler Suiters:

What about more specific to Sony, Cheryl? And what you all have done? The donations of products, not just technology products, but also, the medical supplies that were in such critical need early on during the crisis and then pivoting that to again, recognizing an international audience and international scope and also an international need in many fences.

Cheryl Goodman:

Yeah. This is something that makes me incredibly happy and proud to work for Sony is not only was the leadership or it is the leadership, it's us retooling what we have to say, "Can we come up with PPE gear?" Which we did, which was amazing. And that PPE gear is now being deployed and being used.

Cheryl Goodman:

A follow on to that and actually this was happening in tandem is the COVID-19 Fund. Within a very short order after this pandemic was recognized as being so damaging and so unwieldily to our workforce and to our partners and to our community, we started a $100 million fund specifically toward healthcare workers. And we also acknowledged, which I thought was super unique, is the communities that actually create all of the things that make up Sony what it is. It's this creators community, whether that is an artisan photo journalist, a journalist, a photographer, anyone that was using our gear that may have been impacted, whether it was job loss or illness itself, we set up that fund to address that specific need. And we've already started that dissemination of that funds, actually a couple of months ago and starting to see the impact of that. That was a really a delightful process to be a part of and to witness.

Tyler Suiters:

When you talk about the next steps, Cheryl, and to the extent that we ever get out of this, you alluded to earlier where we're half a year in and we're still adjusting. How does a company like Sony look forward? And how far forward can you look with high accuracy in terms of what lies ahead and how you adjust for a period that is really like no other?

Cheryl Goodman:

Yeah, that's a really great question. It was so important so early on to look forward. Again, turning on the news every day, where everything was seemingly falling apart. If you don't have hope, if you don't have a path forward, it's really easy for employees, even myself, to succumb to this defeatist attitude about how will we work around this? You can't even leave your home. How are we going to work around this? And so it's real. And I would say that that hope and that looking forward was really transformative. And in the early days, the hope was, it was lean. We really had to manufacturer the silver linings in this dark cloud. And in that I think things like the COVID Fund, like the PPE gear, like the contributions, not only solved a societal need, but really made us feel good that we were in a position to be able to do that. Really a wonderful opportunity.

Cheryl Goodman:

And I'll just segue in there a little bit, Tyler, in that, we know it was really March when all of this started to come online and then April comes in and we're starting to get our bearings and hope. And we're seeing a lot, really positive things. We went from really looking outward to indoors, the great indoors. What does that mean? TV sales. We're all looking around at the spare bedrooms or that old TV that's in the corner. For the great indoors, there were opportunities. I think a lot of companies have witnessed an uptick, which was really nice, but then came the tragic consequences of disparity in our society and the social unjust that we've witnessed. Another blow to the gut. How do you manage that?

Cheryl Goodman:

Yes, it might be expected that a company of Sony's size and other technology companies would jump to the opportunity with dollars such as the a $100 million dollar COVID Fund, but less expected I suppose, that we would show up for social injustice and I say less expected because we had just contributed a $100 million towards COVID, but then within very short order, did the same thing for an equally important, if not more pervasive, important, difficult problem to solve as the injustice that we witness here today in America that we're still dealing with.

Cheryl Goodman:

And so I'm just pleased, delighted and honored that we are able to apply funds to the tune of a $100 million to not only our existing partners, whether it's our Black Chamber of Commerce or the NAACP or Black Girls Code, is that we're able to leverage our existing partners to add additional equity into those relationships, to shore up that inequity and then also to really talk about how our employees can feel really good, because that's where hope comes from and hope and future is really what gets us all up and out of bed and innovating every day. A little gushy there, Tyler, but it's truly how I feel.

Tyler Suiters:

I knew we'd be talking technology, Cheryl. I didn't know it would be so inspirational. And I mean that sincerely. There's a passion behind what you're saying and that it exudes from you and from the company as well. Again, being a part of something larger. But when we're talking about looking ahead, I want to switch back to technology now. And, you all made such a big splash at CES 2020 with VISION-S. I'll say a self-driving vehicle, but there's so much more to it that no one expected from Sony at that time, in that place, under those circumstances. How do you keep forward looking projects like that running? How do you keep those teams driving during a time of uncertainty and when so much is getting a bit of a reset?

Cheryl Goodman:

Well, I love the word play of driving and running and all those good car terms.

Tyler Suiters:

I wish that was intentional, but yeah.

Cheryl Goodman:

Well, fast forward ahead, speeding right on down on the VISION-S there, Tyler. Yeah. Yeah. I got to say is that was the big surprise last year and who better than Sony to bring together, not only this sensor embedded rich, beautiful, highly designed vehicle, but the interior. You have your 360 audio, which is amazing spacial audio. And then you also have the visuals, all this wonderful content. Kenichiro Yoshida, our CEO, global CEO, talks often about we are a creative entertainment company, but really it's that structure of technology that enables our creativity. You can have this great audio experience and this great visual experience through content, but maybe the world was surprised when we combined both of those in a vehicle that was sensor laden, autonomous. And if I could say it, very sexy car.

Cheryl Goodman:

We were very happy. I got to say, it's probably one of the best career days for me just in terms of having such immense awe for the engineers that really put that together, our design folks that put that together, but really the biggest part is keeping that a secret and sneaking a car into CES, who does that? Who does that? I guess Sony does that. But I will say, Tyler, lots to come on that topic in the near future. I'm hoping that we can realign and reconnect in the next couple of months so I can give you that a little bit more insight of the path that we're driving down as it relates to VISION-S and what's next.

Tyler Suiters:

Yeah. The path you're driving down, I see what you did, Cheryl. That was even better than mine. I don't want to push too hard, because we're still a ways away from CES 2021. It's going to be an all digital experience. What can you say about at least where you're looking, Cheryl, where the emphasis might be? Or where Sony is going to be, because you always show up big at CES.

Cheryl Goodman:

Yes. Well, I tell you with the COVID pounds, I might show up bigger than I had planned, but thinking about Sony showing up big, big hair, everything's big but big in the sense that this new economy, what I would hope by the time that we enter January and this all digital show, that we're closer as a community and as a society to a COVID solution. That's the hope, and that's what we count on, but in absence of that is, and I touched on it just a bit earlier, is that it really is this new mode of working has accelerated. It has hastened connectivity. It has hastened global audiences that aren't confined by proximity. They're not analog, they're not confined by spaces. And we've just seen such incredible engagement. Now, granted, this is a bit of forced engagement. We're all in our homes by and large, but I believe that we have struck on something that will be part of our DNA, will be part of our dialogue moving forward in this depth of digital, isn't going away. We've just uncovered too many efficiencies for it to fully go away.

Cheryl Goodman:

But the net net is it's all about driving the boundaries of innovation, whether that's the acuity in 8K. Again, that 360 reality audio, our dominance in the sensor market, what's happening in autonomous driving. Everyone's favorite robot might make an appearance, you never know. We are definitely really hitting on all cylinders in terms of our prowess in robotics, coding, engineering, audio, visual and sensors. And so I'll be honest, I personally am quite sad because it's always great to be physically there at CES, but no doubt we'll be able to capitalize upon the opportunity and bring that value just as CTA and CES has always allowed us to have a platform to bring value. We believe that we'll continue to bring that value, just in different packaging.

Tyler Suiters:

No, we're a long ways out. We can't get specific, but I love hearing the excitement about the genres that Sony is excited to move into and develop even further. And as always, it's just great to reconnect and hear what's going on for a global company with its eyes really on the world during a difficult time. Cheryl, thank you so much for taking time and joining us again today.

Cheryl Goodman:

Yes. Thank you, Tyler. And thank you to the CTA for always giving us a platform to talk about what excites us that we hope, of course, excites the consumer.

Tyler Suiters:

Well, CES transcends the traditional tech industry. Companies use the show as a platform to show how they're embracing technology and evolving their business. Companies large and small have a platform at CES and we want you to be there for the all digital version and to be CES ready. Subscribe to this podcast, that way you won't miss a single episode of CES Tech Talk as we're gearing you up for the big show in 2021. Speaking of, CES 2021 runs January 11th through the 14th. We have more exciting news on the horizon so keep checking ces.tech, that's our website. That's where you'll find the latest. That is at ces dot T-E-C-H. Well, nothing about this podcast would be possible without the stars of our show, executive producer, Jennifer Drogus, our assistant producer, Kristen Nemeroff and senior studio engineer, John Lindsey. You all are the best in the business. I'm Tyler Suiters. Let's talk tech again soon.

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