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Former Panasonic president Matsushita dies at 99

Masaharu Matsushita, the son-in-law of Panasonic's founder and who helped lead the Japanese electronics company for half a century as it grew into a global brand, has died. He was 99.

Matsushita married the daughter of Panasonic Corp. founder Konosuke Matsushita, who had no sons and whom he succeeded as president in 1961.

The company said Tuesday that Masaharu Matsushita died Monday at Matsushita Memorial Hospital in Osaka, central Japan, a facility founded by his father-in-law. Other details were not disclosed for privacy reasons.

Son of a painter, Masaharu Hirata studied law at what later became the University of Tokyo and worked at a major Japanese bank before marrying and joining Panasonic. He adopted his wife's family name, which sometimes happens in Japan.

He served as Panasonic president for 16 years, which coincided with the height of Japan's globalizing expansion.

Although Panasonic no longer carries the founding family name, it started as Matsushita Electric Industrial Co., a tiny outfit that grew over decades from the devastation of World War II to a respected global brand.

In recent years, the maker of Viera TVs and Lumix digital cameras has been battered by plunging gadget prices and intense competition from more innovative and cheaper rivals. It posted its worst loss in company history for the fiscal year ended in March.

The founder's management philosophy, which centered on team work and unpretentious bosses who would personally go around cleaning company bathrooms, is still idolized today by Japanese companies, workers and politicians.

Panasonic Chairman Fumio Ohtsubo said Tuesday that the company must stay true to the founder's vision as it tries to recover, and he recalled that Masaharu Matsushita and he had often discussed the company's roots.

"I honor from the bottom of my heart his achievements in steering our company toward momentous growth," he said.

He is survived by his wife, Sachiko, and son, Panasonic Vice Chairman Masayuki Matsushita, the only member of the founding family still on the board.

Funeral plans were undecided.

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Follow Yuri Kageyama on Twitter at http://twitter.com/yurikageyama