/

Kaz Hirai to end six-year Sony reign on high note

by Alex Martin

Staff Writer

Kazuo Hirai looks set to end his six-year reign at Sony Corp. on a high note.

The electronics giant said Friday its president and chief executive officer credited for turning around the once-struggling company will assume chairmanship and be replaced by his right-hand man.

The announcement came as Sony posted a nearly fourfold jump in third quarter operating profit and raised its full year profit forecast to a record high, underscoring how a restructuring drive led by Hirai, focusing on image sensors and gaming, is reaping rewards.

Effective April 1, Chief Financial Officer Kenichiro Yoshida, who alongside Hirai worked to steer Sony back to profitability after years of losses, will take on the role of CEO.

“I have been pondering about when to step down and decided this to be the ideal timing, both for Sony and myself, as the company prepares to embark on a new mid-range plan,” Hirai said at the company’s headquarters in Tokyo.

On Friday, the company posted an operating profit of ¥350.8 billion in the October-December quarter, up from ¥92.4 billion a year ago. It also raised its profit forecast for the year ending March 31 to ¥720 billion from ¥630 billion, its highest ever.

Hirai, 57, took the helm of the troubled company in 2012 and soon began implementing cost-cutting measures that involved trimming jobs along with a company-wide restructuring that saw it sell off its Vaio personal computer business.

It split its flagging television manufacturing operations in 2014 and last year said it would take a massive ¥112 billion write-down at its movie unit.

In the meantime, Sony focused on driving up its revenue by investing in state-of-the-art image sensors used in smartphones and digital cameras as well as its “network services” business, which includes the popular PlayStation console and software titles.

In recent years, the company has also been stepping up efforts in the fields of artificial intelligence and robotics. Last month, it relaunched Aibo, the robot dog that inspired a strong following even after it was discontinued over a decade ago.

Yoshida, 58, who joined Sony’s head office as chief strategy officer and deputy CFO in 2013, is said to have played a central role in fixing Sony’s woes and bringing it back into the black.

Serkan Toto, a Tokyo-based mobile industry consultant, said Yoshida’s promotion wasn’t surprising considering his proven track record.

For Hirai, the timing couldn’t be better, he said.

“He can basically step down as the savior of Sony, so to speak, and the guy who turned Sony around, and go to his next adventure with a very good entry in his CV.”

Hirai, who is fluent in English, assumed the top role after moving from his position as head of the firm’s network products and services division to replace Howard Stringer.

He said Yoshida, the incoming chief, is a strategically minded, dependable management partner who shares his vision for the company.

Yoshida is a Sony veteran who joined the company in 1983. Before joining Sony’s head office, he held stints in Sony’s U.S. arm and the finances division. He joined Sony Network Communications Inc., or So-net, in 2000, and became its president in 2005.

Yoshida said he will work on further reforms to deliver long-term growth.

“I believe Sony’s largest asset is the Sony brand, loved by people around the world,” he said, adding that the company needs to keep pushing to enhance its global competitiveness.