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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.

After Vietnam he returned to CBS, rising through the ranks to become president and winning nine Emmys, including one for The CIA's Secret Army, an expose of the US's undercover war against Cuba's Fidel Castro after the Bay of Pigs. Stringer's mix of charm and hard work made him one of the hottest media executives in the US.

Idei picked Stringer for Sony in 1997 after the latter had left CBS for a brief stint at the head of an ill-fated venture called Tele-TV. He was always going to stand out in Japan, but he was culturally adept in an unfamiliar environment, and was quick to introduce colleagues to the delights of Welsh golf courses.

Stringer can be blunt too - an unusual trait in Japanese corporate culture. He was in the running for director-general of the BBC at the end of the 1990s and during one interview someone asked him if he was a little too old for the job. "I'm only six weeks older than I was when you asked me to apply," Stringer replied.

Unafraid to shake things up, he has slashed jobs at Sony, ousted high-profile executives and brought in more outsiders. But for all Stringer's charm and ruthlessness, Sony is far from the innovative powerhouse it once was. Apple dominates digital music. Amazon's Kindle is beating Sony's Reader. LG, Samsung and Vizio have proved tough competition in HD TVs. The entire music business is suffering, and while film has been a good business for the company, this summer looks patchy at best.

PlayStation, too, faced stiff competition from Nintendo's Wii and Microsoft's Xbox, but it has been a bright spot for the company's digital strategy. There are 50 million PlayStation 3s around the world, all capable of accessing a world of online content as well as playing games. Indeed, it was starting to look like Sony's Trojan horse, a way to take the digital fight back to Apple and its rivals - but the hacking scandal has cast a dark shadow over those plans.

For years, Stringer has talked about returning to Britain. His family live in Oxfordshire, north west of London, and the Sony boss spends his time flying between there, New York and Tokyo. A welcome in the hillsides must look more tempting than ever now. Having risen in the west, perhaps Stringer's long American odyssey is finally setting in the east.

Guardian News & Media


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