Global Economics

Sony Ericsson Marches On


The former CEO of the mobile handset maker, Miles Flint, reflects on his tenure, the company's foray into games and music, and the next big thing

On Nov. 1, Miles Flint, a 54-year-old Briton, stepped down as chief executive officer of Sony Ericsson, the fourth largest mobile handset maker. He will act as an adviser to his successor, Hideki "Dick" Komiyama, until the end of this year, and then plans to take a short career break.

Flint, who began working for Sony (SNE) Europe in 1991, was appointed Sony Ericsson's CEO in June, 2004. During his tenure he doubled the company's sales and presided over the successful launch of the Walkman and Cyber-Shot phone brands. He is credited with increasing Sony Ericsson's global market share by three percentage points, to 9.5%. Flint recently spoke to BusinessWeek.com's Jennifer L. Schenker about what's next for the mobile industry and for Sony Ericsson.

What do you think of Google's (GOOG) entry into the mobile sector?

There is an opportunity there, but the challenge is formidable for anyone who wants to bring a new operating system to market.

Nokia (NOK) is making a big push into mobile services with Ovi. Does this put pressure on Sony Ericsson?

What we are announcing with our PlayNow service, in terms of downloadable games and music tracks, is a further evolution of what we have been doing. This isn't a breakaway strategy. Our focus has been to work with operators collaboratively and in partnership. We have done this rather that creating something controversial [like the Nokia service] where it's less clear who is working with whom.

How do you see mobile applications evolving?

The mobile phone camera has had huge resonance with the consumer, as have digital music players. Both of these have further scope for innovation. The GPS and mapping stuff is going to be there, but I am not quite sure it will be as big a consumer proposition as some people believe.

What about mobile TV?

TV on the mobile looked dead-certain as the next major application, but that hasn't quite happened. There are standards issues and issues concerning handset size and power consumption, so it is more likely to be video in an Internet environment on the mobile, rather than TV.

What's the next big thing?

We are moving into broadband mobile with sufficient bandwidth, and that is causing a transition similar to what we saw in fixed broadband. The really big change started in 2007, but it will be two or three years before the mobile Internet is truly ubiquitous. At that point it will be the consumer deciding what he or she wants.

How will advertising on mobile phones be different from on the fixed Internet?

It is going to have to be very specific and individual. I haven't yet seen anything really compelling.

What are you most proud of having accomplished during your time as CEO of Sony Ericsson?

We took the great decision to ramp up R&D in the company and be a full range supplier, and saw dramatic improvement in profitability. The company has doubled its size in three years, something it would take a lot of other businesses 5 or 10 years to do.

What's next for Sony Ericsson?

I like to think about it as a three-stage rocket. We are now moving into the third stage, where we will see even greater success. I see no end in sight for Sony Ericsson's ability to move forward.


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