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How Sharp Stays On The Cutting Edge

The leader in flat-panel TVs also banks on cell phones, solar power, and white goods

Sharp Corp.'s Takuji Okawara has one of the coolest jobs at one of Japan's coolest companies. Okawara, 58, is a top executive at the Osaka consumer-electronics company that has become the world's leading producer of thin-screen TVs made with liquid crystal displays (LCDS). His job: As technology becomes more commoditized, make sure that Sharp (SHCAY ) always stands out from the crowd. "We need to create something new, something different," Okawara explains. "We can stay away from making commodity products with a combination of high technology and high-end design."

How cutting edge is Sharp? At CEATEC Japan, a big consumer-electronics show near Tokyo in early October, Sharp's newest products were on full display: The company showed a prototype of a monster 65-inch LCD TV -- the largest made. Then there were the design touches. Some of Sharp's big-screen LCD models were framed in superglossy Japanese lacquered red and black wood. And just to rub in how dominant Sharp is these days, on Oct. 4, the day before the show started, the company announced it expects earnings for the six months ended Sept. 30 to be $351 million, up 40% from a year ago, on sales of $11.3 billion. "We are convinced that LCD TVs will be the mainstream TV for the world market," says President Katsuhiko Machida.