Sony’s video game unit names new president
TOKYO – Sony’s video game unit named the head of its U.S. operations as president Thursday, replacing the “father of the PlayStation,” Ken Kutaragi, just as the company is rolling out its newest version of the game machine.The appointment of Kazuo Hirai to the global management team comes at a crucial time for Sony Corp., which sorely needs a big hit in its PlayStation 3 to repair its battered reputation and books.Kutaragi will stay on as chief executive and also become chairman of Sony Computer Entertainment, and the company said he will continue to play a key role in the video game business.The addition of Hirai, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, also reflects Sony’s efforts to make its top ranks more international.Since last year, Sony has had a Welsh-born American CEO, Howard Stringer, the first foreigner to ever head the electronics and entertainment giant.Sony announced Thursday that it was appointing an American, Jack Tretton, head of its U.S. gaming business to replace Hirai. He’s the first non-Japanese to assume that post.Tretton, executive vice president at Sony’s U.S. gaming unit, helped oversee the launches of the PlayStation series in North America.”Given his experience and exceptional reputation in the industry, I can think of no better person to assume the helm of the PlayStation brand in the US, Canada and Latin America,” Hirai said of Tretton.David Reeves, of Great Britain, and the head of Sony’s European video-game operations, also was appointed vice president at Sony Computer Entertainment.The appointments are effective Friday, it said.Hirai, who will also become chief operating officer, has been instrumental in building the PlayStation business in the United States for the last decade, taking office as president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America in 2003.But Masayuki Otani, analyst at Maruwa Securities Co., was a bit skeptical about the news, noting that the gaming markets are extremely different in the U.S. and Japan.”Sony is such an old-fashioned company. Success in the U.S. doesn’t necessarily mean success elsewhere,” he said. “The appointments could also signal a gradual farewell – ‘thank you for the hard work’ – for Mr. Kutaragi.”A few years are needed to assess the success of the PS3, which will likely depend on whether consumers will buy it to watch the next-generation video format it supports, Blu-ray disc, Otani said.The machine went on sale in November in Japan and the U.S. to eager fans waiting in long lines overnight. But Sony has already stumbled in mass producing the consoles, and has been able to deliver only limited numbers of the PS3, and has postponed its sale in Europe until March next year.Stringer, meanwhile, has been trying to turn around Sony’s fortunes, closing plants, wiping out divisions and trimming jobs, after it fell behind rivals in digital music players and flat-panel TVs.But recovering sales got devastated by a recent massive global battery recall, which cost the Japanese electronics and entertainment company 51 billion yen ($438 million) in the third quarter.Startup costs for the PS3 have also battered Sony’s books, sending its profit for the July-September quarter nose-diving 94 percent to 1.7 billion yen ($14.6 million).Almost every major laptop maker in the world, including Dell Inc., Apple Computer Inc. and Lenovo, has announced recalls of Sony lithium-ion batteries that could overheat and burst into flames.