Sony promotes Kazuo Hirai to succeed CEO Howard Stringer
Kazuo Hirai, who has been taking on an increasingly public role as the new face of Sony Corp. over the past year, has been appointed president and chief executive of the struggling consumer electronics and entertainment giant.
Hirai's promotion is effective April 1, the beginning of Sony's next fiscal year. The 51-year-old executive will succeed Sony's current chairman, CEO and president Howard Stringer, who will become chairman of the board of directors in June.
Hirai joined Sony in 1984, fresh out of college. His first job was as a junior marketing executive at a joint music venture owned by CBS and Sony in Japan. In 1995, Hirai moved over to Sony's computer entertainment division the year after the company launched its first PlayStation game console.
For Hirai, who has been leading the Japanese company for the last few months in all but name, the move comes at a critical time for Sony. Fierce competition for low-cost manufacturers in Korea and China have eroded its profit margins for its flagship television business, while consumers have abandoned Sony for smartphones and tablets produced by rival Apple Inc.
Last year, further misfortune struck Sony as hackers infiltrated its computer servers, wreaking havoc on millions of confidential customer profiles. A massive earthquake triggered a Tsunami that ravaged Sony's home market of Japan, and tropical storms later damaged its factories in Thailand and elsewhere.
The disasters led the company in November to project a $1.2-billion loss for its current fiscal year ending March 31, reversing a $769-million gain it had projected prior to the catastrophic storms. It's set to report its financial performance for its December quarter Thursday morning.
In most, if not all, of these instances, Sony leaned on Hirai to present the bad news to its customers and investors.
To outsiders, it may have looked as if Hirai had been acting as the fall guy. But Sony's decision to elevate him to the top post indicates that the company's board approved of his performance and believes him to be the right person to lead the company in a time of crisis.
Founded in the midst of post-World War II Japan in 1946 as a telecommunications company, Sony became a global powerhouse starting in the late 1960s when it introduced its Trinitron color television.
-- Alex Pham
Photo: Howard Stringer, Sony's outgoing CEO, left, and Kazuo Hirai, who was appointed its new president and CEO, in 2009. Credit: Shizuo Kambayashi / Associated Press