The fact that Sony, the world’s second largest consumer electronics and entertainment company, has today announced a 47% jump in third quarter profit and is predicting a full year profit from a loss is remarkable by any standards but even more so when you examine the CV of the man who has been responsible for it.He is Sir Howard Stringer, who was named chairman and chief executive of Sony last February, the first Westerner ever to lead a major Japanese company.
Born in Wales 64 years ago, he lived in a house with no electricity, then won a scholarship and later went to Oxford. At 22 he went to America with $200 in his pocket to get a job and was drafted to fight for the United States in Vietnam. Back in the US the work he found was at CBS News in the 1970’s producing documentaries. He ran the CBS Evening News but more defining was his promotion to president of CBS News. In 1987 he oversaw the first redundancies in the company’s history, he had to fire 200 colleagues and friends but his greatest coup was to persuade David Letterman to bring his Saturday Night Show to CBS.
After a distinguished career in journalism, he joined Sony in 1997 to sort out some problems at its Columbia Pictures unit and later was appointed president of Sony Corporation of America. His star rose as he moved up Sony’s management tree and last year he was appointed to the top job.
“I thought about taking this job for well over a week because I knew that the reason I got the offer was because the company was in financial difficulties. And so I knew that I would to use every personal skill I had to persuade and cajole and convince that for the greater good of the company, we might to have some tough things” he said later.
His new restructuring plan called for the elimination of 10,000 jobs and 11 of 65 factories, something Sony’s Japanese executives, so entrenched in the tradition of jobs-for-life, could never do. But he is doing it with good effect as the latest result show and at the same has unified the company’s massive workforce. One newspaper has dubbed him “the affable axe-wielder”.
Sony has never had a leader quite like Howard Stringer.
He doesn’t speak Japanese and just standing up make him stand out – he’s a foot taller than everyone. Based in New York, he spends two weeks in Japan, mostly getting out on the shop floor meeting the workers. His travel schedule is so awesome that he only sees his wife and two children who live in a country mansion in Oxfordshire a few days a month.
His mission to restore Sony to No 1 is just starting and he is mindful of the company’s great traditions. “I have to look after some of those traditions because why the successful in the first place. And I am not sure that leaping on board an American business model of ruthlessness and viciousness and counter-attacks all the time is a good thing necessarily for somebody else. And so, taking care of something else’s culture is part of the job and opportunity of this job. I have things to learn from the Japanese. And not just the other way around”
Sir Howard was knighted in 1999 for achievements that have left some mark on the 20th century or will leave a mark on the 21st.
It seems they have got it right!