Sony shareholders OK new management

Company losing money on electronics business

TOKYO -- Sony shareholders approved a new management setup at the Japanese electronics and entertainment company on Friday that will center power around Chief Executive Howard Stringer and a team of younger executives.

They approved 15 directors, including Welsh-born American Stringer, the first foreigner to head Sony, who is taking on an additional title of president as well as serving as chairman and chief executive.

Ryoji Chubachi, who has resigned as president, will remain a director. He will become vice chairman overseeing product quality and environment policies and take a more supportive role.

Another part of Sony's new management reshuffle, which has gained public attention recently, is the appointment of Masao Morita, the son of Sony co-founder Akio Morita, as the head of the company's music and movies operations in Japan.

Sony has been no exception among Japan's export-reliant manufacturers in racking up huge losses for the fiscal year that ended in March -- its first annual net loss in 14 years and its first ever caused by red ink in its core electronics business.

Sony Corp. is expecting an even bigger loss for the fiscal year through March 2010, as it gets hammered by sliding global demand, a strong yen and declining gadget prices.

At an annual shareholders meeting in Tokyo, attended by more than 8,300 investors, Stringer sought to allay investor fears about the future of the company that makes the Walkman music player and PlayStation 3 game machines.

Stringer told shareholders the company was on track to restructure its operations and cut costs by 300 billion yen ($3.1 billion) this year, as he had promised earlier.

Under the new management team, announced in February, Sony has centered power in Stringer to streamline decision-making.

Stringer, 67, is heading a team of four younger executives, three of them in their 40s --  including Kazuo Hirai, 48, head of Sony's game unit -- to spearhead efforts to bring together Sony's sprawling empire, spanning TVs, games, movies and semiconductors, to develop products and services for the digital age.

Board member Morita, who has formerly headed the music business, becomes head of the Japan units of Sony Music Entertainment and Sony Pictures Entertainment, effective later this month.

Sony says the appointment is an effort at helping speed up ways to take advantage of Sony's strengths in gadgets and entertainment content, which includes video games, movies and music, to come up with new businesses.

Such "synergies" have been promised for years, but have never really materialized as Sony got overtaken by rivals like Apple Inc. that came out with products to do just that.

Sony has acknowledged Sony had not been quick enough, and had lost to not only Apple but Asian makers like Samsung Electronics Co. In the past, divisions in the company failed to communicate well, and Sony didn't fully exploit the potential of its sprawling operations, according to officials.

Chubachi had overseen the electronics business, which has been hit by shrinking consumer demand and the strong yen. The problems in electronics, including losses in TV operations, is the main reason Sony is losing money.