Sony Said to Seek President as Possible Successor to Stringer

Sony Corp., Japan’s biggest exporter of consumer electronics, plans to look for a new president who could eventually succeed Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Howard Stringer, people familiar with the matter said.

Stringer would retain his roles of chairman and CEO, said the people, who asked not to be named because the talks are private. Stringer took on the president’s job in April 2009 after ousting Ryoji Chubachi.

Installing a president would give Stringer, who turns 69 in February, a deputy to lighten his work and travel load and offer the designee a chance to prove their mettle as Sony sets its long-term plans. Kazuo Hirai and Hiroshi Yoshioka, two of the company’s so-called Four Musketeers, may be considered, one of the people said.

Tokyo-based spokesman Shiro Kambe declined to comment.

“Stringer should be credited for carrying out structural reforms to stop the company from bleeding,” said Kohi Toda, Tokyo-based chief fund manager at Resona Bank Ltd., which oversees about $55 billion in assets. “Nevertheless, Stringer hasn’t managed to steer the company to growth. His accomplishment was rather earning time and energy for Sony to get ready for the next growth.”

Stringer travels frequently between his main office in New York, Sony’s Tokyo headquarters, the movie division in Los Angeles and London where his family lives. He said last year he wanted to remain on the job until Sony completes its business plan ending in March 2013.

Apple, Samsung

The choice of the next president may herald a new emphasis on electronics after a decades-long expansion into media. Sony has been unable to loosen Apple Inc.’s grip on portable media players or fend off Samsung Electronics Co.’s rise in televisions, while Nintendo Co. took the lead in video-game consoles.

Since Stringer took over in June 2005, Sony’s stock has fallen about 25 percent, double the drop by Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average. The shares rose 0.8 percent to 2,894 yen in Tokyo today.

Stringer replaced division leaders to spur cooperation and cut 30,000 jobs to revive earnings. Sony has been trying to boost sales by promoting 3-D products and being first in offering Internet-oriented TVs that run on Google Inc. software and Intel Corp. chips.

Profit Forecast

The company raised its full year net income forecast last month after improved results in the unit that handles PlayStation consoles, Vaio computers and Walkman media players. Sony has posted two consecutive profitable quarters, even as the yen strengthened to near a 15-year high.

Since 2009, Stringer has been grooming four executives as he pushes Sony’s divisions to marry hardware products with film, TV, game titles and music from the company’s entertainment businesses. With the exception of Hirai, Sony’s “musketeers” are all engineers by trade.

Hirai, 49, who spearheads Sony’s games business, and Yoshioka, who’s in charge of TVs, cameras and chips, are the leading internal contenders for the president’s role, according to the people.

‘Musketeers’

Hirai started his career at a joint venture between Sony and CBS, now called Sony Music Entertainment Inc., in 1984. He was named president of Sony’s U.S. game unit in 1999. The executive, fluent in Japanese and English, was brought up in the U.S. and Japan.

Yoshioka, the oldest of the “musketeers” at 58, oversees a $50 billion consumer products group that includes TVs, stereos, DVD and Blu-ray players and camcorders. Batteries and semiconductors are also handled at his group.

Yoshihisa Ishida, 51, who spent most of his career at Sony developing and marketing Vaio personal computers, now heads the TV business within Yoshioka’s group. Kunimasa Suzuki, 50, leads Sony’s Vaio personal computer operation under Hirai’s networked products group.

Stringer, who holds master’s and bachelor’s degrees in history from Oxford University, joined Sony in 1997 after a career spanning two decades at CBS. The Welsh-born U.S. citizen became chairman and CEO in 2005 after winning the endorsement of his predecessor, Nobuyuki Idei, who oversaw the loss of more than 60 percent of Sony’s market value over five years as Apple and Samsung gained market share.

Format Wars

Stringer scored a victory over Toshiba Corp., which abandoned its HD DVD technology in 2008, handing the high- definition video market to Sony’s Blu-ray. It was the entertainment industry’s largest format tussle since VHS beat Betamax in the 1980s. He also oversaw Sony when robust sales of Vaio computers and smaller digital cameras led the company to post net income of 369.4 billion yen ($4.4 billion) in the year ended March 2008, the company’s highest in a decade.

Prior to the earnings comeback, Stringer also oversaw the biggest recall in the consumer-electronics industry in 2006 when some of the company’s batteries overheated. He led Sony during the company’s first back-to-back annual losses since its listing. Under Stringer, the company’s flagship PlayStation 3 was outsold by Nintendo’s Wii, and sales of Amazon.com Inc.’s Kindle trumped those of Sony’s rival electronic-book reader.

Under Akio Morita and Masaru Ibuka, who co-founded Sony in 1946, the company created Japan’s first transistor radio and the world’s first compact disc player. Morita’s admirers included Apple founder Steve Jobs, according to John Sculley, former CEO of Apple.

To contact the reporters on this story: Mariko Yasu in Tokyo at myasu@bloomberg.net; Cliff Edwards in San Francisco at cedwards28@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Young-Sam Cho at ycho2@bloomberg.net; Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net;

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