Sony names Hirai to replace Stringer as CEO

Wed Feb 1, 2012 3:40pm EST
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By Yoko Kubota and Liana B. Baker

TOKYO/NEW YORK (Reuters) - Sony Corp named Kazuo Hirai as chief executive, succeeding Howard Stringer at the helm of the iconic gadget maker as it struggles with persistent losses and stalled efforts to re-energize its once-dominant brand.

Hirai, a 28-year company veteran known for overseeing the phenomenal rise of the PlayStation gaming system in the United States, takes over as CEO and president on April 1.

Hirai, 51, was effectively anointed as Stringer's successor last March when he was promoted to head the company's consumer products and services businesses, which produce the bulk of Sony's $85 billion in annual sales.

"They've been grooming him for a while," said Dan Ernst, Hudson Square analyst. "I think he will carry on the plan for Sony -- as difficult as it is."

That plan hinges on turning around the company that has come under fire for losing the innovative edge behind products like the Walkman and Playstation, and ceding ground to rivals such as Apple Inc and Samsung Electronics as consumers snapped up their iPhones, iPods and Galaxy gadgets.

A chief concept in the strategy hinges on merging Sony's robust roster of entertainment properties -- including singers Kelly Clarkson and Michael Jackson, and the "Spider-Man" and "Men in Black" film franchises -- with its Vaio, Bravia and other electronics brands, in an effort to boost sales.

"He is fully on board with that plan," Ernst said of Hirai. "He implemented a lot of that in the PlayStation group and probably more than anyone at Sony."

Sony announced the changes ahead of its earnings report on Thursday, which is expected to show a net loss for the fourth year in a row as its TV division bleeds red ink.   Continued...

<p>Kazuo Hirai, President and Group CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment, presents the new Sony S tablet (R) and the P tablet during a news conference at the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin August 31, 2011. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz</p>