Sony CEO Hirai Tells SPE Film, TV Execs: Studio Not for Sale

Kazuo Hirai

The Tokyo-based executive told some 100 employees at the studio's Culver City lot that he has no intention to sell Sony Pictures and will "hang a sign from the water tower saying 'not for sale.'"

Sony Corp. CEO Kazuo Hirai held several meetings with top level executives at the company’s Culver City studio lot on Thursday in a bid to assuage worried employees in the wake of a nearly $1 billion loss, the hunt for new leadership and speculation about a possible sale.

The Tokyo-based executive, who arrived in the U.S. on Wednesday and plans to stay a few more days, met with about 100 film, television and music employees, according to people who were present but could not speak publicly. Hirai, flanked by outgoing Sony Entertainment CEO Michael Lynton, also addressed talk that the electronics conglomerate might be looking to unload the underperforming studio.

Asked about such a sale, Hirai joked to executives present that he would “hang a giant banner from the water tower that says ‘not for sale,’” according to one exec present. Among the heavy hitters in the room were Sony Pictures chief Tom Rothman and television production heads Zack Van Amburg and Jamie Erlicht.

The meetings, held inside the studio’s new eight-story Morita building (named after Sony co-founder Akio Morita), come after a whirlwind few weeks for the company. Earlier on Thursday, Sony reported that its film unit recorded a $920 million loss for the October-to-December quarter following impairment charges announced earlier this week. Revenue for the unit fell 11 percent during the period, hurt by a series of box-office underperformers including Passengers and The Magnificent Seven.

Hirai told employees that he believed in Sony’s film and television content, despite recent stumbles. It will be one of the areas he will focus on when he returns to the U.S. later this month as part of a six-month plan to work periodically in Culver City.

But Hirai also told executives that the area he will be most focused on will be finding a replacement for Lynton, who is leaving the entertainment division to become chairman of Snap Inc. and lead the Snapchat parent through an initial public offering. (Snap filed a regulatory form on Thursday that disclosed Lynton owns 3 million shares of the company that could fetch an IPO valuation of $25 billion).

Both Hirai and Lynton discussed their hope to identify new leadership soon. But they did not discuss — nor were they asked about — specific executives rumored to be on the list of contenders, according to people in the room. There has been speculation that former Tribune Media CEO Peter Liguori, who is now an adviser to Sony’s board, might be in line to take Lynton’s job; and among the names also bandied about is former 20th Century Fox film head Jim Gianopulos.