In 1997, veteran broadcast industry executive Howard Stringer capped a 30-year career by taking on the challenge of a lifetime and moving to Sony. His job was to persuade Sony's famously fractious U.S. entertainment and electronics businesses to put aside the internal politics and do a better job of cooperating.
On paper, the task seemed easy enough. Besides, Stringer was given the official authority to make things happen when he was later appointed CEO of Sony Corporation of America--head of all Sony's efforts in the United States, including movies, music and electronics.
For the longest time, Stringer, who is also vice chairman of Tokyo-based Sony, found it difficult to playing peacemaker between warring factions. He had to carefully navigate the varying entrenched interests within Sony's notoriously byzantine empire.
But Stringer's labors are finally bearing fruit. He also received unexpected help from a rival's smashing success. When sales of Apple Computer's iPod music player took off, it provided a concrete demonstration to the troops of the advantages that accrue when the content and hardware parts of a business decide to cooperate.
The various businesses within Sony are working toward a common goal, according to Stringer. That shared vision couldn't come at a better time: The conglomerate has been struggling and losing ground to up-and-comers in all of its key businesses.
Q: When you first got to Sony, your role was described as a diplomat between the various Sony businesses. How has the relationship between those businesses changed since you've been there?
A: When I got there, I was not in charge of the operating companies. I was given strategic responsibility for them, but they were all reporting directly to Tokyo. I was balancing and trying to maintain relationships with the operating companies to encourage and stimulate them to proceed in a particular direction and to be prepared for the digital future. Gradually, one by one, Tokyo gave me responsibility for the companies until four years ago, when they gave me the job of chief executive officer of three of them.
In the last year and a half, building a relationship between content and devices has taken on a new urgency as a part of Sony's convergence strategy.
Convergence (the idea that a single device will handle multiple tasks) seems to be something everyone is working on but no one is close to mastering. What's so tough about it?
Well, there are huge advantages and disadvantages to it. The disadvantage is that because of piracy, our content companies have been reluctant to embrace some aspects of the new technology.
The success of the iPod has lots to do with that. There is limited security with the iPod, and our content companies wanted greater security. The company has been very supportive in trying to create security on their next generation of Walkman that would be more efficient and effective. That took more time and may even be impossible. It's now been thwarted by iPod, which demonstrated that it could attract consumers.
The positive side is that when you have all this content in multiple catalogs, you are able to work more closely together with electronics companies. This is a recent phenomenon; we now have software engineers in pictures and music working together with Tokyo. They
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