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Sony replaces CEO Stringer with electronics group leader

Kazuo Hirai, who led Sony's PlayStation gaming business and more recently took over a growing electronics group, is now chief executive.

Kazuo Hirai, who will soon become Sony's CEO, is seen here debuting the company's
at IFA in 2011." credit="Stephen Shankland/CNET" alt="Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai" creditUrl="" targetUrl=""/>

Kazuo Hirai is becoming Sony's new chief executive, replacing Howard Stringer on April 1, the Japanese electronics giant announced Wednesday.

Hirai led Sony's PlayStation gaming business and more recently took over a growing electronics group, and Stringer said in a statement he recommended him for the CEO post:

Three years ago, I started to work with the board on succession plans, and in February 2009 we named a new generation of leaders to be my management team. Among them was Kaz Hirai, who had distinguished himself through his work in the PlayStation and networked entertainment businesses. Kaz is a globally focused executive for whom technology and the cloud are familiar territory, content is highly valued, and digital transformation is second nature. I believe his tough-mindedness and leadership skills will be of great benefit to the company and its customers in the months and years ahead. I look forward to helping Kaz in every way I can so that succession leads inevitably to success. It was my honor to recommend him to the board for the positions of president and CEO, because he is ready to lead, and the time to make this change is now.

Sony's former Chief Executive Howard Stringer speaking at IFA in 2011.
Sony's former Chief Executive Howard Stringer speaking at IFA in 2011. Stephen Shankland/CNET

Sony remains a formidable force in the electronics world, but it's lost leadership as Apple, Samsung, and others have risen through the ranks. The company is partnering closely with Google for Anrdoid-powered phones and tablets and for Google TV.

Last year Hirai took over a consolidated Sony electronics group that covered everything from videogames and laptops TVs and tablets. Rumors of Hirai's promotion to CEO surfaced in January.

Smartphones and tablets are critical area where Apple has left Sony far behind. The company had been enmeshed in a partnership with Sweden's Ericsson for mobile phones, but Sony is buying out Ericsson's stake in the phone business for $1.47 billion.

Phones and tablets are key not just because they're hot electronic products, but also because they're the foundation of an software ecosystem. Apple's dominance here means it's harder for rivals to crack the market, because they must attract not only phone and tablet customers, but also programmers. Google has built a real ecosystem with its Android operating system, but Sony must share it with stronger Android rivals, notably Samsung.

Hirai, though, has ecosystem experience with the PlayStation product line, which includes not just an array of games but also the PlayStation Network of customers. Sony also has valuable video and music assets that help when it comes to providing content.

The PlayStation Network took a drubbing last year, though, during an embarrassing security breach. Still, by August, Stringer said PSN membership growth had returned.

In a statement, Sony board chairman Yotaro Kobayashi praised Hirai as the right person to restore Sony's fortunes. "He has a unique capacity to inspire people, to build teams, to make the tough decisions, and to think with clarity and foresight about the challenges we face and how to surmount them," Kobayashi said.

In his statement, Hirai had this to say about Sony's future:

As challenging as times are for Sony now, were it not for the strong leadership of Sir Howard Stringer these past seven years, we would have been in a much more difficult position...The path we must take is clear: to drive the growth of our core electronics businesses--primarily digital imaging, smart mobile, and game; to turn around the television business; and to accelerate the innovation that enables us to create new business domains. The foundations are now firmly in place for the new management team and me to fully leverage Sony's diverse electronics product portfolio, in conjunction with our rich entertainment assets and growing array of networked services, to engage with our customers around the world in new and exciting ways.

Stringer will remain chairman of Sony until June, when he'll step up to replace retiring Sony board chairman Kobayashi, Sony said. Hirai is expected to join the Sony board at that time, Sony said.

Updated 3:35 a.m. PT with further background and comment.