Sony CEO Kaz Hirai Stepping Down

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Kaz Hirai

Hirai will become chairman, a largely honorary role at Japanese companies, while Kenichiro Yoshida will take over as president and CEO.

Sony Corp. CEO and president Kaz Hirai is stepping down and will be replaced in those roles on April 1 by current chief financial officer Kenichiro Yoshida, the company announced Friday.

Hirai, who has overseen the turnaround of Sony during his reign since 2012 from heavy losses to forecast record profits for the current fiscal year to March, will become group chairman, a largely honorary role at Japanese companies. Howard Stringer took the same route when Hirai replaced him.

No reason for the move was given, but rumors that Yoshida was destined for the top job have circulated for years.

Under Hirai's tenure, Sony exited unprofitable sectors, such as computers with the sale of its Vaio division, and made others profitable, often through heavy job cuts. While Hirai was the personable face of the company, many credited Yoshida with imposing strict financial targets and the willingness to make tough decisions as the force behind the group's turnaround.

Hirai has been a keen supporter of Sony's pictures division, but Yoshida's position is less clear and his appointment will likely lead to fresh speculation that the company could exit the business. 

Yoshida has been with Sony for more than 30 years, including stints in the group's finance and investor relations divisions, and working in the U.S., before becoming CFO in 2013. Yoshida is held in high esteem by fund managers and analysts; Sony stock rose 2 percent on the Tokyo market in the hour after his appointment was announced. 

Sony will hold a press conference Friday with Hirai and Yoshida after its third-quarter earnings results announcement at its Tokyo headquarters.