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Hey Steve Jobs, Buying Sony Gets Cheaper by the Day: The Ticker

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By William Pesek

It's safe to say Sony Corp.'s Carlos Ghosn experiment has flopped.

In 2005, the embattled electronics giant turned to its first non-Japanese chief executive officer. The hope was that Howard Stringer would shake up and turn around Sony the way Ghosn, a Brazilian-born Frenchman, did at Nissan Motor Co. No such magic came from the gambit; Stringer, a Welsh-born U.S. citizen, has overseen a 60 percent decline in Sony's share value.

Why, many wonder, does Stringer still have a job? My own question is why Steve Jobs or other technology magnates aren't knocking on Sony's door with acquisition plans?

I raised this issue in a 2008 column, but Sony is much cheaper today. It's valued under $22 billion, less than a quarter the size of South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co. To even raise the Apple Inc.-buying-Sony question is techie blasphemy. Founded amid the ashes of World War II, Sony's meteoric success has a unique place in the Japanese psyche.

Today, Sony stands as a microcosm of Japan's malaise. Like Japan, Sony is a behemoth that once set the standard with innovations like the Walkman, but lost its primacy and self-confidence. Sony, also like Japan, overreached and grew complacent amid a rapidly changing world economy.

Apple CEO Jobs helped end Sony's run with the iPod, iPhone and iPad. Japanese from Tokyo to Fukuoka are buying up Jobs's game-changing products with a passion once reserved for Sony's.

Buying Sony may make eminent sense. Of course, Sony may carry too much baggage. Jobs would need to break through Sony's ingrained corporate culture and attack its bloated bureaucracy, Ghosn-style. Getting Sony out of tangential businesses -- like banking and life insurance -- would be a full-time job all its own.

Yet joining forces with Jobs could help Sony get its groove back. Apple has the "cool factor'' sewn up. What it lacks is content -- movies, music -- to sell to its iPad and Apple TV enthusiasts. Jobs could negotiate deals with record labels and film studios or he could own them. Sony, meanwhile, needs to set free its once-formidable design experts.

iSony, anyone?

(William Pesek is a Bloomberg View columnist.)

-0- Aug/12/2011 14:00 GMT

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