By Matt Burns
Sony (SNE) enters a new era April 1st. On that day Kazuo Hirai will replace Sir Howard Stringer as Sony's president and CEO. The challenges ahead are massive; Sony is facing a financial and organizational calamity. Sony is simply too big and has fallen too far and Hirai is tasked to bring Sony back to glory.
Sony just announced a new corporate organization that shows drastic change is underway. Under this strategy, dubbed One Sony, separate Sony divisions will share management, hopefully streamlining decisions and creating a more unified end-user experience that better utilizes Sony's content offering. Sony under Stringer was an unwieldy multi-headed beast. Hirai is clearly trying to tighten the reins. It just might work and it has to work.
Prior to Stringer, Sony was led by Nobuyuki Idei who started feeding the hungry Sony machine. Under his watch Sony established Sony BMG Music Entertainment and purchased Hollywood's Metro-Goldwyn Mayer studio in 2005. He entered into the joint mobile-phone venture with Ericsson. He was also the Sony exec that green-lighted the loveable, but still a bit strange, Aibo robotic dog.
Stringer was left with a bit of mess when he took over in the summer of 2005. At that time Sony was far from being just a consumer electronic company and majorly involved in nearly ever aspect of media creation and distribution. Now, in 2012, Sony's once-mainstay TV division is drowning in red ink, the company just dissolved its partnership with Ericsson, and there is little, if any, compelling reason for a consumer to use one of Sony's many media distribution platforms over Netflix, iTunes or Amazon.
Sony is simply not built for the current consumer electronics game. We're entering into the age of digital appliances, a post-PC era if you will, and 15 years ago Sony would have been the top player. But now, in 2012, Apple and Samsung are the big kids on the playground; Sony is hiding under the slide doing his homework.
The PlayStation happens to be the one bright spot in Sony's recent history. Sony's incoming CEO, Kazuo, led that division for the last 5 years. There is hope, Sony fans.
Under the One Sony structure, Sony sees digital imaging, gaming and mobile devices to be the three cornerstones of its electronic business. Hirai himself will be in charge of Sony's troubled HDTV division. The company will still pursue the medical technology field but what was separate medical-related divisions within Sony will be consolidated into one unit. Perhaps most promising though, Sony is appointing Kunimasas Suzuki, currently Executive Deputy President of Consumer Products. & Services Group, to be the officer in charge of unifying Sony products and creating a better user experience across the company's entire product and network service line - something the company desperately needs. He is also in charge of Sony's mobile business, showing that Hirai understands that going forward user experiences start in the mobile sector.
Sony of old is long gone. Sony will never be the same nimble company again. However, with the proper structure and leadership Sony might once again regain its swagger. Sony was once the shining example of user experience and hardware design done right. Sony needs to find its soul. If any company can properly battle Apple in the arena of consumer electronics, it's Sony. After all, it's Sony that Apple and Steve Jobs were aiming to dethrone 15 years ago.