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Sony chief haunted by dark shadow

Dominic Rushe (SMH) | May 12, 2011
In the autumn of his career, Sony's British-born chief executive is beset by rivals and crises.

Hackers have accessed an estimated 100 million accounts on the Sony's online gaming networks. It's one of the worst internet break-ins of all time - analysts say it could cost Sony up to $US24b - and comes as Sony has striven to put its PlayStation games console at the centre of plans for a digital future.

The villains, according to Sony, left a taunting message: "We are legion" - a line used by the loose affiliation of hackers known as Anonymous. But Anonymous claims it is being framed: the collective targeted Sony after it started legal action against ace hacker George Hotz, but it has never been associated with credit card theft.

Sony trotted out Kazuo Hirai, Stringer's heir apparent, to deliver Sony's official mea culpa. "We apologise deeply for causing great unease and trouble to our users," he told a press conference, bowing in shame. Then yesterday on 6 May, in a blogpost, Stringer himself finally apologised for the "inconvenience and concern" caused by the breach.

The Sony boss also acknowledged criticism that the company had been slow in alerting its customers to the hack attack; a full week elapsed between Sony uncovering unusual activity in its systems and notifying users. Stringer said: "I wish we could have gotten the answers we needed sooner, but forensic analysis is a complex, time-consuming process. Hackers, after all, do their best to cover their tracks."

It is six years since Stringer became Sony's first non-Japanese chief executive. The curly-haired Welshman doesn't speak the language - he argues that it's too hard to learn at his age - and took over a high-profile job in a country whose corporate culture is sometimes accused of being xenophobic. But he was the first choice of Nobuyuki Idei, then Sony's chairman, who had shaken up the Japanese giant and was determined to bring in more outsiders.

The appointment was the highlight of a remarkable career. Stringer was born in Cardiff, Wales, his father a sergeant in the RAF (British air force), his mother a schoolteacher. The family moved to Aylesbury, north of London when he was a small boy and he won a scholarship to private school before studying modern history at Oxford University. His studies confirmed him as a lifelong liberal and in 1965 Stringer moved to New York, inspired by stories of the civil rights movement and John F Kennedy.

He had just cashed his second paycheck as a clerk at CBS Radio when he was drafted to Vietnam. Instead of catching a plane back to Britain, he went to war, spending two years in the army and being decorated for valour.


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