Sony's new video games chief might best be described as the anti-Kutaragi. On Apr. 27, the Japanese electronics and entertainment giant tapped Kazuo "Kaz" Hirai to take over Sony Computer Entertainment after founder Ken Kutaragi says his final sayonara this summer. The promotion of Hirai, a marketing whiz who got his start in the music business, underscores how Sony (SNE) is steering the gaming unit away from its roots as a semi-independent startup run by the autocratic Kutaragi.
But when he assumes the gaming unit's top post, Hirai will have one of the hardest jobs at Sony. Since the launch of the PlayStation 3 console in November, Sony's ultra-high-tech machine has trailed the competition from Microsoft (MSFT) and Nintendo (NTDOY). Lately the gaming unit's cost overruns and ongoing technology investments have hurt Sony's bottom line. They have also caused a headache for Chairman Howard Stringer, who has spent the past two years pushing through reforms and selling off assets aimed at turning around the company's key electronics division. The game division's bigger-than-expected losses appear to be the impetus behind Stringer's reshuffling of the unit's management last November.