Sharp Gears Up for Growth

With its savvy marketing, many Americans do not realize that the firm is Japanese

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

SHARP Electronics, a Japanese multinational company, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this year - and its 30th year in the United States - by doing what has propelled its growth: introducing innovative products.

Its latest offerings include a microwave oven that operates on a one-touch button, a razor-thin color television set that hangs on the wall like a painting and uses a liquid crystal display to give almost perfect visual clarity, and an 8 mm camcorder with two different lenses built into the unit.

Sharp is a world leader in "optoelectronics merging light with electronics. And looking ahead into the 1990s, Sharp executives in the US say the company is positioned to take advantage of its expertise in liquid crystal display (LCD) technology in calculators, television sets, and other products.

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Sharp is the world leader in LCDs, selling 35 percent of LCDs worldwide and 70 percent of the thin-film transistor LCDs that are especially compact. Sharp recently introduced an 8.6-inch diagonal color television monitor that is 3 inches deep. The company is also developing a 14-inch monitor. Optoelectronic integrated circuits are being developed that could lead to three-dimensional home television.

Headquartered in Mahwah, N. J., Sharp Electronics Corporation is the US sales and marketing subsidiary of the Osaka-based Sharp Corporation. Last year Sharp garnered global net income of $361 million on net sales of $11.5 billion. Sharp's US operations produced sales of $2.2 billion. Sharp projects that US sales will "be about 2 percent higher in 1992," according to Daniel Infanti, general manager of Sharp's US marketing operations.

Industry analysts say that given the decline in consumer spending, higher US sales would be impressive. In fact, some brokerage houses have lowered Sharp's revenue and earnings forecasts for the fiscal year ending this March. In a report late last year, Nomura Research Institute America Inc., predicts that Sharp's LCD business will expand; Sharp is also expected to do well in semiconductors.

The English-language "Sharp" name, used worldwide, is derived from the company's first major product, the Ever-Sharp mechanical pencil.

Many Americans perceive Sharp as an "American company," in part because it has avoided highly politicized takeover ventures, such as the acquisition of Hollywood film studios and American software firms by some Japanese electronics firms. Sharp has two manufacturing facilities in Memphis that employ more than 2,000 US workers. It recently announced plans to build a third plant there.

In the US consumer market, Sharp is the market leader in sales of microwaves, electronic organizers (small notebook-sized computers), small calculators, electronic cash registers, and fax machines, according to Mr. Infanti. It is No. 2 in office copier sales.

Sharp's main US goal, says Infanti, is to boost its market share in office equipment. In 1985, Sharp's US sales were about 65 percent consumer products and about 35 percent office products. Today the mix is about 50-50, which is one of the reasons the company will post relatively strong sales this year, despite the consumer downturn.

The success of Sharp Electronics, according to Infanti, is due to both its sizeable capital and research-and-development budgets ($740 million alone is being spent on LCD production facilities between 1990 and 1992) that speed the debut of new products, and the company's distribution and service operations.

Sharp was the first company to put LCD technology into calculators in 1973. The worldwide LCD market, now about $1.3 billion, is expected to reach $13 billion by the year 2000.

Another part of the picture at Sharp is the firm's conservatism at the boardroom level: Haruo Tsuji, Sharp's president, is only the third head of the company since it was founded.

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