Sony Corp. said Thursday it will reorganize its main electronics businesses and promote the star of its gaming operations to lead a new consumer products division.
The massive new consumer group will be led by Kazuo Hirai, a rising executive who has overseen a recovery in Sony’s video game business. The move likely sets the stage for him to one day take over for current CEO Howard Stringer.
Hirai, 50, is one of Sony’s most charismatic, recognizable leaders. Fluent in English, he has been instrumental in the success of the PlayStation brand in the U.S. and the rise of gaming as a major entertainment platform rivaling movies and television. Entertainment Weekly once named him one of the most powerful executives in the industry.
The iconic company said it will combine the vast array of products that have made it famous with consumers — including TVs, video games, computers and mobile phones — into the group. A second main division will be formed with the company’s digital components and business-facing products.
Tokyo-based Sony remains a household name, but has lost much of the glow from years past, when its Walkman portable music players and other products transformed the electronics industry. Now it is struggling against flashier rivals like Apple Inc. and behemoths like South Korea’s Samsung Electronics Co.
Profits have grown in the gaming division under Hirai, with its core PlayStation 3 home console expected to sell 15 million units for the year through March, up from 13 million over the previous year.
The company has also generated a buzz among gaming aficionados with the recent announcement of a successor to its PlayStation Portable hand-held, due to go on sale later this year. Codenamed “NGP,” for next-generation portable, it promises flashier graphics on a large screen.
Sony is striving to find a formula for combining such consumer products with its large music and movie holdings, which include the recent movie “The Social Network,” about Facebook, and Michael Jackson’s “Michael.”
In its earnings announcement last month, Sony said quarterly profit dropped from a year earlier, pulled down by the strong yen and falling TV prices. It also cut its annual sales forecast for the current financial period.
The changes revealed Thursday are to be implemented from the start of the next fiscal year, which begins in April.
Hirai’s promotion makes it more likely he will one day run the firm. In a press release, the company said Stringer would remain in charge, but the reshuffle was aimed at “empowering the next generation of Sony’s management.”
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