In a bold and unexpected move, Japanese consumer electronics giant Sony has taken the rare step of hiring a non-Japanese executive as CEO. This is the first time a foreigner has run Sony, making the sudden downfall of former Sony CEO and Chairman Nobuyuki Idei the biggest management upheaval in the company's history and a sign that the suddenly flailing company is serious about turning around its electronics business.
Sony announced early this morning that Howard Stringer, a 63-year-old American citizen who was born in Wales, will run the company. Previously a journalist and an executive at CBS News, Stringer ran Sony's US entertainment operations until his promotion. In that role he streamlined Sony's movie and music businesses and turned the divisions around financially.
Stringer's ascension to the top of Sony came after an emergency board meeting in Tokyo. During the meeting, Idei and his second in command stepped down, and the board approved Stringer's CEO nomination.
At stake is the suddenly crowded consumer electronics business, which has seen upstart Apple Computer steal market share with its surprisingly successful iPod line. Industry analysts have long argued that Sony--which essentially invented the portable entertainment market with its Walkman line of products--should have been able to counter the iPod threat. Instead, Sony's poorly designed MP3 players have languished in the market.
Sony should be credited with acting decisively in a time of crisis, however. And although the company's shares have been taking a beating since 2003 and some of its product lines have underperformed, Sony still has an amazing portfolio of products that includes consumer electronics, movies, games, music, and even financial services. The company's line of VAIO PCs and notebooks is well regarded, and Sony's core products--TVs, DVD players, and similar products--are still highly sought after by consumers.