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Thursday, June 23, 2005
Sony's Chief Executive Sets Reviving Electronics as Priority

Howard Stringer, a Welsh-born former journalist who became the first foreigner to head Sony, vowed Thursday to make reviving the Japanese company's battered electronics sector a priority by focusing on key products that can bring long-term growth.

Stringer _ whose appointment as Sony Corp. chief executive and chairman won shareholders' approval Wednesday _ gave no details on what businesses or products he may drop, saying a turnaround plan will be announced in late September.

"First and foremost, my responsibility is to revitalize Sony's electronics business," he told reporters at a Tokyo hotel. "Cost-cutting is one thing but growth is even more vital."

But Stringer hinted Sony would have to drop some product lines, comparing the company _ which also has movie, music and video-game segments _ to jam that was spread too thin.

"We can't do everything," he said.

Ryoji Chubachi, the new president and head of electronics, voiced similar sentiments. Sony was struggling because rivals were getting an edge in specific products, while Sony was fighting on all fronts, making a quick response to competition too complex, he said.

"We are setting sail in a storm," said Chubachi, who is expected to work closely with Stringer, a 63-year-old former executive at CBS Inc. who joined Sony in 1997.

Sony has seen its profits eroded and its once mighty brand power diminish in recent years because it has failed to churn out the hit products that made it a household name over the half-century since its founding. Sony started with the transistor radio and more recently developed the Walkman portable music player, Trinitron TV and PlayStation video-game console. Sony shares have lost more than half their value in the last five years.

Some analysts say Sony has fallen behind in portable music players, crystal-display panel TVs, DVD recorders and other products to rivals like Samsung Electronics of South Korea, Apple Computer Inc. of the United States and Sharp Corp. of Japan.

Kazuya Yamamoto, an analyst at UFJ Tsubasa Securities in Tokyo, says he wants to look at the September proposal before assessing Stringer but said there's no doubt Stringer faces a tremendous task.

"He has a good track record in North America, but it all depends on what he does from now, and it's going to be difficult," he said.

Stringer, who headed Sony's North American and entertainment operations, was credited with having achieved results in the United States through job cuts and other key moves such as Sony's acquisition of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, whose library of films such as the James Bond series is expected to be crucial in boosting sales of digital electronics gadgets.

One major challenge was communication, Stringer said, not only between management and the ranks but also among the sprawling sections at the Tokyo-based electronics and entertainment conglomerate. Stringer, who has dual British-American citizenship, speaks almost no Japanese and will continue to live in New York.

Analysts say Sony's entertainment interests sometimes also proved an obstacle because of copyright concerns that slowed innovation in gadgets. Sony was slow in coming out with music players that played the widespread MP3 files and gave up a big head-start to Apple's iPod.

When asked to name his favorite Sony gadgets, Stringer smiled and said he had just bought a high-definition rear-projection TV set, one of Sony's hits in the United States.

He also mentioned the PlayStation Portable, which he said will become a main tool for watching movies, and the upcoming next-generation game console, the PlayStation 3.

But he acknowledged it will take time to get Sony on the right track.

"We are not looking for a short-term fix. We are looking for long-term growth," Stringer said.

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