NEWSMAKER-Stringer wins Sony office politics, real fight ahead

TOKYO, March 2 Mon Mar 2, 2009 10:59am GMT

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TOKYO, March 2 (Reuters) - Sony Corp (6758.T) Chairman and CEO Howard Stringer is not one to air his grievances in public.

But after three and a half years at the helm of the fractious electronics giant, the ex-TV journalist could not resist a mild dig at his Japanese managers' failure to eliminate corporate bureaucracy.

"Have I broken down all the silo walls? No. Are they very strong and very thick? Yes ... Inside Japan, there are quite a lot of important silos," Stringer told a news conference on Friday to announce a change in management.

Next month, Welsh-born Stringer will take over President Ryoji Chubachi's position and head Sony's electronics division, which makes Bravia flat TVs, Cybershot digital cameras and Handycam camcorders. [ID:nT212310].

A dual U.S. and British citizen, Stringer was handpicked by his predecessor Nobuyuki Idei, who hoped Stringer's command of movies, TV and other content would balance and guide Chubachi's passion for hardware.

But the Oxford-educated former screenwriter must have been frustrated at engineer-trained Chubachi's unyielding conviction that Sony's recovery had to come from manufacturing technology alone, observers say.

"I think he waited for Chubachi to come around, until he just couldn't wait any longer," said Seiichiro Yonekura, professor of economics at the Institute of Innovation Research at Hitotsubashi University.

"He's a good guy. And like many good guys, his timing may not be the best."

The inventor of hit products of yesterday -- including the Trinitron TV and Walkman cassette player -- now faces its biggest ever annual loss on weak demand and climbing restructuring costs.

Stringer hopes to realise the goals he laid out when he became chairman in 2005: excite consumers with software and online services.

That is as a deepening global slowdown dims prospects for a quick recovery, and Sony appears vulnerable in the absence of recent hit electronics products such as rival Apple Inc's (AAPL.O) iPod and Nintendo Co Ltd's 7974.OS Wii.

But Stringer, who at CBS helped boost Dan Rather to the top of U.S. news ratings and wooed comedian David Letterman from a rival network, now has allies in key slots to help him.

Sony appointed Kazuo Hirai, head of the group's video game business, and Hiroshi Yoshioka, head of its TV business, to make its electronics more user-friendly and network-enabled in a bid to take on Apple and Microsoft Corp (MSFT.O).

"Stringer chose people who had been abroad -- people he can communicate with," said Kazuharu Miura, analyst at Daiwa Institute of Research. "He picked people who will follow orders."

The future of Sony hinges on whether or not Stringer, who spends two weeks a month in Japan, can unite a firm that is emerging from an internal power struggle between its software and hardware businesses.

"Sony's ability to manufacture hit products is crippled by office politics and bureaucracy," said Yoshihisa Toyosaki, president of IT consultancy J-Star Global and a former Sony employee.

"It could have come up with the iPod first, but it just didn't. The rest is history." (Editing by Ian Geoghegan)

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