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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March 2005, 15:41 GMT
Sony boss is more than video repairman
By Ben Richardson
BBC News business reporter

Sir Howard Stringer, the new boss of Japanese electronics firm Sony, tells a story of how he once lent former US President Bill Clinton's daughter a video recorder.

Sir Howard Stringer, CEO and chairman of Sony
Sir Howard points out that there is more to him than meets the eye

Chelsea Clinton was with her father in the Hamptons on Long Island one rainy summer night when their host's machine broke down.

A call went out to Sir Howard, who was then working for US television channel CBS.

"I was taken aback," he told the Royal Television Society in a speech at the end last year. "How had she found me?"

"Was I perhaps listed in the yellow pages? TV repairman - President of CBS. Anyway I didn't try to fix it, just gave her my own instead. Problem solved."

Quick step

An ability to think on his feet and quickly resolve difficulties may prove invaluable as Sir Howard takes over the reins at Sony and enters what is likely to be a defining period in the firm's 59-year history.

Stringer is considered a tough, savvy businessman who doesn't drag his ego around like a hunch on his back. He remembers names and what people do.
New York Magazine

His appointment comes just weeks after Sony said that profits at its electronics division would miss targets for the second year in a row, and as the firm battles increased competition, and film and music piracy.

Sir Howard has wasted no time in setting out his stall, saying that the company will focus on greater cooperation between its technology, engineering, and entertainment businesses.

Critics claim that the fractious nature of Sony's organisation saw it miss the MP3-player boat, losing ground to rivals such as Apple and its iPod.

Sir Howard already has been credited with bringing Sony's US entertainment and electronics operations closer together, cutting costs and having the strength to oust music industry legend Tommy Mottola.

'Perfect executive'

Sir Howard also oversaw the purchase of entertainment group Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM), giving Sony access to a library of older movies.

"In many ways, Howard Stringer is a perfect executive for a Japanese corporation, understanding procedure, while recognising that it often pays to be non-confrontational," New York Magazine said in an article last year.

"Stringer is considered a tough, savvy businessman who doesn't drag his ego around like a hunch on his back. He remembers names and what people do.

Man looking into elelctronics shop window
The global electronics market is getting more and more crowded

"He is big and capacious, and his frequent hugs are bear hugs. He is intensely intelligent and athletically sociable."

Born in Cardiff 63 years ago, Sir Howard went on to read modern history at Oxford University.

He moved to the US in 1965, and served as a soldier in the Vietnam War, winning the US Army Commendation Medal.

Between 1976 and 1981, he worked as an award-winning documentary maker at television channel CBS.

Back home?

As president of CBS between 1988 and 1995, he turned the company around, shunting it from last place in the ratings to first during the same season.

The father-of-two was also responsible for coups such as luring late-night TV host David Letterman from NBC.

After 30-years at CBS, Sir Howard left to run Tele-TV, set up by phone firms Bell Atlantic, NYNEX and Pacific Telesis.

A couple of years later, and a return to the UK may have been on the cards after he was linked to the job of director general at the BBC.

"For a while I did flirt with BBC head-hunters, but was labelled by the press here as hopelessly unqualified," he told the RTS. "Hardly surprising, I came in eleventh in a field of ten."

Sony will be hoping that Sir Howard performs better in the coming quarters and, as man who does not speak Japanese, manages to translate his vision into growing profits.

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