Sony Corp. (6758) board Chairman Howard Stringer, who became the first non-Japanese executive to lead the company, said he will retire in June.
Stringer, 71, will step down at the company’s annual shareholder meeting, he said last week in a speech at the Japan Society in New York. Kazuo Hirai, 52, succeeded him as chief executive officer about a year ago.
A surprise choice for CEO in June 2005, the Welsh-born Stringer struggled to bring Sony into a digital age where rivals offered phones and TVs with more features at often lower prices. Samsung Electronics Co.’s efficient manufacturing and the success of Apple Inc. (AAPL)’s iPod and iPad forced him to focus on cutting costs. Sony posted a record 457 billion-yen ($4.8 billion) loss in the 12 months ended March 2012, Stringer’s last year as chief executive of the Tokyo-based company.
“Considering the poor earnings result last year, he should have stepped down even earlier,” said Yasuo Nakane, an analyst at Deutsche Bank AG. “His departure means Sony has completed the transition to a new management team. It’s positive for the company.”
Stringer informed Hirai about his exit plan earlier this year, Shiro Kambe, a Tokyo-based Sony spokesman, said by phone on March 9. Sony’s board will discuss replacement candidates and a final decision on a successor will be made after the June shareholder meeting, he said.
“Howard’s achievements as CEO of Sony are innumerable; from breaking down silos and driving ‘Sony United,’ to fundamentally realigning the focus of Sony’s product development,” Hirai said in a statement.
Sony, Japan’s largest consumer-electronics exporter, rose 1.7 percent to 1,489 yen as of 9:41 a.m. in Tokyo trading, compared with a 0.6 percent gain in Japan’s benchmark Nikkei 225 Stock Average. The shares have advanced 55 percent this year as the weakening yen boosts Japanese exporters’ overseas earnings.
Stringer said he will probably sit on boards in the health- care and education fields and will continue as chairman of the American Film Institute, among other pursuits.
“A new world is opening up for me,” Stringer said, according to a transcript provided by Jim Kennedy, a spokesman for the company. “That will allow me to move forward with new opportunities.”
Hirai has been selling Sony assets including its U.S. headquarters in New York and another building in Tokyo to reach profitability. He wants to generate 70 percent of revenue and 85 percent of operating profit in Sony’s electronics from games, digital imaging and mobile devices by March 2015.
The former head of the PlayStation unit has been continuing an effort led by Stringer to enable Sony’s Bravia televisions, Handycam camcorders and Xperia phones to communicate with each other.
“Stringer had a real tough job when he took over the company,” said Tim Bajarin, principal analyst and technology consultant at Creative Strategies Inc. in San Jose, California. “They’ve made some significant strides since, but still have some siloed businesses that still don’t work in harmony the way they need to.”
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