Street shares bullish Sony view

Stringer brushes off questions over ability to lead

NEW YORK — Sony shares rose in Japan for the second day running and popped higher in New York Monday on news of a massive management shake-up that installed conglom’s U.S. topper, Howard Stringer, as its chairman.

Stringer, a Welsh-born U.S. citizen who doesn’t speak Japanese, brushed off questions about his ability to lead a Japanese company at a news conference in Tokyo on Monday.

“As with all great institutions, Sony has built a tremendous legacy over 60 years. But we cannot let that trap us or inhibit us. We need to take that legacy and reinvent it,” Stringer said.

He expressed similar sentiments in an email message to Sony employees.

“The dynamics and competitive landscape have changed. The pace of innovation across all the businesses in which we compete has changed. So Sony too must change,” he said.

Change it did. Five board members resigned — including ousted chairman Nobuyuki Idei, his No. 2 Kunitake Ando and Ken Kuturagi, the father of Sony’s PlayStation, who had been considered heir to the top job. There’s much speculation over whether Kuturagi also will resign his executive position at the company.

“Five people left the board. This was a bloodbath. This was not an orderly succession,” one industry observer noted.

Stringer said he will work closely with Ryoji Chubachi and chief financial officer Katsumi Ihara. Both Chubachi, who will replace Ando as No. 2, and Ihara have years of experience in electronics — the company’s biggest business and a glaring trouble spot that has squeezed Sony’s profits and stock price.

Denying Sony was in “crisis,” Stringer said he would carry on the strategy set up by Idei and Ando of integrating electronics and entertainment. But he said he’ll accelerate decisionmaking and use younger talent.

Brand a ‘great creation’

“The brand of Sony is one of the 20th century’s greatest creations,” Stringer said. “I am well aware it is a Japanese creation. I am well aware it is an electronics company. I have every intention of maintaining those traditions.”

Koya Tabata, an analyst with CS First Boston in Tokyo, welcomed the move. He thinks a foreigner at the helm is a plus for a company like Sony, which makes much of its profit abroad and has a large foreign shareholder base.

“It’s fascinating as a symbolic change that Sony’s leader will be a foreigner,” Tabata said. “Idei was good at drawing a picture for a strategy, but he lacked the power to carry it out.”

Idei said the time was ripe to hand over leadership to a new team to ensure Sony continues to grow. He said he’s proud to have helped Sony’s transformation in a digital era. In defense of Stringer, Idei noted Sony is a global company, with only about a third of its workers and business being Japanese.

“It feels a little sad,” Idei told reporters. “But I am happy I was able to help turn a page toward the next era.”

Idei was instrumental in bringing Stringer onboard, and the two men have been close. By helping to elevate Stringer, Idei avoided the embarrassing image of being deposed by a rival Japanese exec, one insider suggested.

Stringer said Sony will stick with the plan to build new products around the next-generation computer chip called “cell,” which will power the next upgrade of the PlayStation videogame machine and other devices.

In New York trading, Sony rose 2% to $39.31.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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