philips products history

How Europe’s Last Electronics Giant Collapsed: The Death of Philips & The Incredible Legacy of the Company

One of the best free documentaries you can watch on Youtube is this one: The Death of Europe’s Last Electronics Giant, made by @TechAltar.

This is not a story of how Philips rose to fame, from inventing most major physical media storage devices, including cassette tapes. It’s the sad story of this electronics giant’s demise – how Philips went from being the biggest electronics company in Europe to now something we only associate with lightbulbs and discounted batteries.

What’s even more insightful is the fact that TechAltar’s video drew many comments from Philips employees, including decision makers, who shared their stories about why Philips collapsed.

Also read: The 26 Lines of Code that Changed the World, A New Book You Should Definitely Add to Your List

What happened to the Philips company

User Peter Jansen wrote:

“ I am Dutch and into technology. I can tell you that Philips has been dying as a tech company for decades, in the 80’s/90’s it started to go downhill. Why? They cut on R&D in the Netherlands and internationally. They started to buy other companies (like medical diagnostic equipment) instead of developing technology. At its high point Philips got the greatest minds to its campus in Eindhoven to lecture the engineers, including Einstein.”

User RogerWilco wrote:

“I worked at the Philips physics lab (NatLab) for a while in the mid-nineties. I have two clear memories from that time that showed the state of the company:

1) There were “idea boxes” in several locations, but nobody would empty them.

2) I know a guy there that was a very early adopter of MP3, and suggested the walk-man division to make a portable MP3 player two years before the first ones hit the market. He was laughed out of the room, mostly because he didn’t have a PhD.

The management was very top down, and very hierarchical, only those with the highest levels of academic training and management levels were allowed to have any ideas. This made it impossible to notice trends and made it a very inward looking organisation.”

User Megan Harris also said:

“ I used to work at a company that was bought out by Philips (which was then rebranded to Philips Neuro) making brain scan equipment. I can’t stress enough how horrified I still am by how little the management cared about making a quality product. Finding out their management has always made baffling decisions isn’t too surprising.”

User Aris also chimed in:

“I worked in 1 business, 1 corporate role in the COO team and 1 role as BP for Research. Philips has been such a life school for me. I saw the best and worst faces of this company during 11 years. From the 3 sectors (consumer/medical/lighting) up to 2021. I’ve seen early innovations popping up as small projects just at the right time and then after 1-2 years i would always think the same… “arghhh wtf are we doing? why does it take so looong?” Needless to say most of those ideas were killed 1 step before hitting the market. Although many good people are leaving right now, the spirit of innovation is well baked in processes and culture. I just hope they’ll be able to succeed in the market again. I’ll always look back at these days with a smile for all the good results we achieved and the super competent and philips-hearted people that i met.”

So, does the Philips company still exist?

Yes, but as you’ll see in this video, Philips stock is falling day by day and the company, once credited with sparking the semiconductor revolution, went through decades of mismanagement that left it a pale shadow of its former self.

Founded in 1891, Philips had their major breakthrough in the illumination market but expanded to everything technical related. For most consumers, Philips is (or was) known for their light bulbs and music-playing devices and accessories.

While Philips Hue is still a thing – and has probably the best smart lights you can buy on a reasonable budget, as well as the gorgeous Philips Fidelio headphones – the company seems to be unable to recapture its former glory.

Thanks to TechAltar’s video, you can get an overview of how this European electronics company ended up in this situation.

Featured image from this Behance presentation on Philips products.

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How Europe’s Last Electronics Giant Collapsed: The Death of Philips & The Incredible Legacy of the Company
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