Kazuo Hirai, the former head of Sony’s game division, won shareholder approval yesterday to steer a turnaround at the struggling Japanese electronics giant as its new president and chief executive.
However, frustrated investors at the company’s annual meeting in Tokyo grilled him and other board members, demanding to know how the company’s past glory was going to be revived.
One shareholder got up without being picked to speak, and began shouting. Another shareholder asked why Howard Stringer, whom Hirai replaced, was staying on as chairman when Sony’s performance had been so dismal under his seven-year tenure. Reporters were able to watch the proceedings on a monitor.
Tokyo-based Sony reported its worst loss in its 66-year corporate history for the business year ended March. Its annual loss last fiscal year of ￥457 billion (US$5.7 billion) was its fourth-straight year of red ink, battered by the tsunami disaster last year, flooding in Thailand, the global economic slowdown and a soaring yen.
More critically, it has stumbled in the face of powerful rivals, such as Samsung Electronics Co, which dominates the global TV business, and Apple Inc with its iPhone and iPad offerings.
“We take the problem Sony’s electronics business is facing very seriously and we feel a sense of crisis,” Hirai told shareholders.
Hirai’s appointment as president and chief executive, replacing Welsh-born Stringer, was announced in April, and up for vote at the meeting. Despite some critical questions, the proposal passed at the end of the 90-minute meeting.
Sony is forecasting a return to profit for the business year through March next year.
Hirai has already said the company would cut 10,000 jobs, or about 6 percent of its global workforce, and turn a profit in TVs in the next two years. The job cuts come on top of a couple of rounds of layoffs under Stringer.