TOKYO, 10 MARCH 2011 - The Sony executive credited with turning the PlayStation into a money-maker, Kazuo Hirai, is in the lead to take over from Howard Stringer after he retires, the Sony chairman said Thursday. But Stringer noted that the race is not over yet.
"The PlayStation group has gone from being a money loser three or four years ago to being a profit center," Stringer said during a small group interview at Sony's headquarters in Tokyo.
Hirai's success with the PlayStation has been noticed by the company's board of directors and made him a very obvious leadership candidate at Sony, Stringer added.
On Thursday Sony announced Hirai's promotion to the head of a new consumer products and services group that will include all of Sony's consumer electronics, personal computer and gaming operations. He currently runs Sony's Networked Products and Services Group (NPSG), which included the PlayStation business. The promotion will take effect April 1.
Stringer offered several reasons for Hirai's leap into pole position. Aside from his PlayStation success, Stringer noted Hirai's teamwork with engineers, expertise in convergence products, loyalty and "charming personality."
There are also strategic reasons.
As head of NPSG, Hirai oversaw the creation of a digital platform that delivers content to Sony devices. The PlayStation Network feeds games, music and video to PlayStation 3 consoles while a companion network, called Qriocity, serves audio and video to Sony consumer electronics products.
The PlayStation Network has more than 74 million registered accounts worldwide and the newer Qriocity service was launched recently in several European countries and the U.S.
With the platform "up and running quite well," Sony is poised to integrate products and services to work better together, Stringer said.
The digital platform proved that Sony can do well in software and, with it in place, "now all we have is upside," Stringer said.
Despite the strong endorsement, Stringer said other executives could still be awarded the top job at Sony.
Hirai will continue be judged on "performance, performance, performance," Stringer said. His new job will also put him in more frequent, direct contact with Sony's board of directors, giving them a chance to see more of him, the executive added.
Nipping at Hirai's heels is Hiroshi Yoshioka, who was named Thursday to run a new division that includes the remainder of Sony's electronics operations, consisting largely of semiconductors, batteries, image sensors and products for the broadcasting industry. Yoshioka currently runs Sony's consumer electronics, professional solutions and devices business.
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