Stringer applies crowd control

Topper promises turnaround

After a rocky year at the helm of Sony Corp., chairman-CEO Howard Stringer promised stockholders the ailing conglom is ripe for a turnaround.

A massive crowd of about 7,000 people turned up at a Tokyo hotel for Sony’s annual meeting to check out its first non-Japanese chief executive — and to gripe about Sony’s red ink and its stock price of about $43.

One shareholder said she bought in at $120. “I bought shares in mighty Sony. … What are you going to do about this?” she asked.

Another called the company’s financial targets too low. Sony has promised a 5% operating margin for the next fiscal year.

Stringer pointed to renewed signs of health at giant Sony Electronics, where his regime has cut costs, narrowed losses and eliminated dozens of lines to focus on core products like high-definition TVs and next-generation “cell” computer chips. The latter are key to the highly anticipated PlayStation 3, due out in November.

“Now in its 60th year, Sony has entered a period of re-emergence,” Stringer said.

The huge challenges Stringer faces in reversing Sony’s downward slide, and the miles he travels to do it, have been widely covered in the press.

The shares have lost nearly half their value in the last five years. They have jumped, however, since Stringer took over.

Sony, once king of the hill, was hit in the 1990s by competition from cheaper Asian rivals and didn’t seem able to respond. More recently, it got badly beat by Apple’s iPod in portable music players.

Stringer and his second-in-command, Ryoji Chubachi, are working to break down social barriers at the company, which had grown too hierarchical and had too little communication between divisions.

Flat-panel TV sales have taken off. And Stringer noted the success of “The Da Vinci Code,” a gold mine for Sony Pictures.

“We are working hard to create a global Sony, a Sony that can pride itself on its technology,” Chubachi said.

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