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Last Updated: Monday, 7 March, 2005, 11:24 GMT
Sony appoints first foreign head
Outgoing Sony Corp chairman Nobuyuki  Idei embraces his successor, Howard Stringer
Sir Howard is looking for new ways to combine gadgets and content
Iconic Japanese electronics firm Sony has appointed a foreign chairman for the first time in its 59-year history.

UK-born Sir Howard Stringer, who does not speak Japanese, is chief executive of the Sony Corporation of America.

The move comes just a few weeks after Sony issued a profits warning for its vital electronics division, the second year in a row it has done so.

Outgoing Sony chairman Nobuyuki Idei has held the job for a decade. Sony's president has also been replaced.

Ryoji Chubachi is to take over from current president Kunitake Ando.

Seeking inspiration

The news pushed Sony's shares up 1.5%, and helped Tokyo's Nikkei index to a 10-month closing high.

Sony headquarters in Tokyo
Howard Stringer, age 63
Born in Cardiff, Wales
Studied history at Oxford
Moved to the US, 1965
Served in Vietnam
Took US citizenship, 1985
President CBS News, 1986-88
President CBS Inc, 1988-95
President Sony Corp of America, 1997
Knighted by Queen Elizabeth II, 1999
Chairman Sony Corp, 2005

Sony has lost its lead in key product areas, and Mr Stringer's appointment is seen as part of efforts to counter that. He has a background in television, and correspondents say the hope is that he can find innovative ways to combine Sony's gadgetry and media content.

The Apple iPod has challenged Sony's position in the portable music market, while Japanese rivals Sharp and Matsushita Electronic, maker of the Panasonic brand, have elbowed past it in sales of flat panel TV screens and DVD players.

Sir Howard, 63, who holds dual US and British citizenship, had a 30-year career as a journalist and TV producer, rising to become president of CBS.

He currently heads Sony's entertainment division, where he oversaw the purchase of film and TV group Metro-Goldwyn-Meyer (MGM).

Previously, only car maker Nissan had appointed a foreigner to head a major Japanese firm. Carlos Ghosn, a Brazilian, has since won praise for turning round Nissan's fortunes.

"Sony has an unparalleled legacy of boldness, innovation and leadership around the world", said Sir Howard.

"We look forward to joining our twin pillars of engineering and technology with our commanding presence in advanced devices and forms of entertainment to the consumer".

Culture shift

Sir Howard's appointment as chairman and chief executive is a ground-breaking move designed to symbolise Sony's determination to bring about corporate change, says the BBC's Tokyo correspondent Jonathan Head.

The market had already written off Mr Idei and wondered when he'd be leaving
Hitoshi Yamamoto, Commerz International Capital Management

Mr Ghosn's success at Nissan "has led people here to believe that a dynamic foreigner thinking outside the box really can revive" a Japanese icon the size of Sony, our correspondent says.

The decision is subject to the formal approval of shareholders who will vote on 22 June, though Sony said the changes would take effect immediately.

Sony also demoted a third top executive. Ken Kutaragi will step down from the board and give up responsibility for semi-conductors and home electronics goods, but he remains in charge of the games division.

Sony's share price has been battered by competition from cheaper Asian electronic manufacturing rivals.

"The market had already written off Mr Idei and wondered when he'd be leaving and why he hadn't done by now. So it's very positive news," said Hitoshi Yamamoto of Commerz International Capital Management in Tokyo.

"The brand still has the magical power to attract customers globally. Before that evaporates, the new management should turn back to the company's origins and do something new - for example by launching epoch-making new products," he added.

How Mr Stringer hopes to turn around Sony's fortunes

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