From our is this news? department, Sony confirmed Wednesday that Sir Howard Stringer will step down as CEO, to be replaced by Executive Deputy President Kazuo Hirai on April 1. Sir Howard will replace Yotaro Kobayashi as Chairman of the Board of Directors at the June shareholder meeting.
Sir Howard’s departure has been heavily trailed, and Hirai has long been his natural and obvious successor, after moving ahead of Hiroshi Yoshioka, the other of the senior pair of Stringer’s “Four Musketeers”. The 2011 reshuffle that put Hirai in overall charge of consumer devices moved Yoshioka to professional products, batteries and semiconductors. Yoshioka’s impending move to Sony’s medical devices division would normally look like a further sidelining, but will intensify speculation regarding plans to expand Sony’s stake in Olympus.
Sir Howard’s turnaround plan runs until March 2013; he was initially expected to see this out, with Hirai stepping in through a managed transition from April 1 2013, but pressure had been building as Sony reported a series of losses. Thursday’s Q3 is not expected to buck this trend.
Last April 1, Hirai was elevated to the newly-created role of Representative Corporate Executive Officer and Executive Deputy President, while also serving as President of the Consumer Products & Services Group – which functionally out him in charge of Sony’s electronic products – the cameras, consoles, TVs and other matériel that make up the bulk of Sony’s turnover. His particular expertise in Sony’s gaming output was reflected in the chair of Sony Computer Entertainment, a part of the Consumer Products & Services group (and thus being in the interesting position of regularly reporting to himself).
The video gaming business has remained largely one of Sony’s success stories: after dominating with the PlayStation 2, a rocky launch with the PlayStation 3 has been smoothed out by shrinking costs both at the checkout and in component manufacture. The PS3 is now a player in a market limited by platform loyalty and costs of entry in a way that an increasingly commodified and price-driven TV business will not see again.