Brit named Chairman of Sony

In a surprise move, Sony Corporation has appointed Sir Howard Stringer as the new Chairman and Group CEO. This is the first time that a non-Japanese has been put in charge of a company that has an almost iconic status in its home country.

The move is part of a major shake-up in the Sony boardroom with seven members stepping down or moving to other parts of the Corporation. Along with Stringer, Dr. Ryoji Chubachi, the current Corporate Executive Officer, will become the Representative Corporate Executive Officer, President of Sony Corporation and CEO of the Electronics Business Group of the company. As part of his responsibilities, Dr. Chubachi will have overall responsibility for Sony’s electronics businesses worldwide. Also promoted is Katsumi Ihara will become Group CFO to oversee company finance.

Stringer said he wanted to shake up the company seen as under performing over the past few years. ‘We cannot let [our heritage] trap us or inhibit us’, he said.

Over the past year, Sony has been seen as a company that has lost its way. Once dominant in consumer electronics, it has seen its lead in, for example, portable music eaten away by Apple’s iPod. In January, Ken Kutaragi shocked the Japanese business world when he openly criticised in fighting within the company which caused the movie and music arms to veto MP3 players which might eat into their business.

Stringer recognised that the competitive environment had changed over the past few years and that Sony needed to change with it. ‘Our businesses must be restructured so they can be much more profitable and so they can grow,’ he said, promising that Chubachi, Ihara and himself ‘will work on a plan to quickly accelerate change. We will not hesitate to make tough decisions.’

He also identified that Sony had become too unwieldy with infighting taking place between the various businesses while disappointing those who saw a way out as splitting the business. ‘Technical and electronic businesses and content creation businesses can have common goals.’ he said. Pledging to bang heads together he said he would ‘accelerate cross company collaboration’.

Sony has a number of challenges before it. No longer the unchallenged brand in consumer electronics, it faces competition on a number of fronts. Due to launch its PlayStation Portable (PSP) in the US and Europe after much delay, it is now facing a serious challenge from the Microsoft Xbox. Elsewhere it has lost its grip on portable music to Apple. While the movie division has been doing well, it is a notoriously risky business.

Sony’s shares rose two per cent on the news at the close of trading on Wall Street.

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