Fortune: Sony’s CEO Howard Stringer Hospitalized During Christmas, Lives In Tokyo Hotel For 11+ Weeks And More


That’s some title, huh? As paparazzi as it sounds, it’s true – according to a recent state of Sony article by Fortune Editor at large Richard Siklos, it’s a tough time being a Sony CEO right now. With the balance sheets doing cartwheels, it has been necessary for Sir Howard Stringer, CEO and President of Sony, to stick around Tokyo and take care of business. This excellent article by Fortune explores the current state of Sony and its products, the transformation process thats occuring, and other little tidbits. The article mentions a new wireless Sony Reader product, which we quoted below. The most surprising statements were of Stringer’s living situation and overall dedication to the job. Here’s some choice quotes:

These days Howard Stringer makes his home in a hotel suite in an affluent Tokyo neighborhood not far from Sony headquarters. It’s a comfortable but far from palatial space consisting of a bedroom, bathroom, and decent-size living-dining area with a small desk that he has outfitted with a PC and fax machine. Among the few personal touches are photos of his family — his wife, Jennifer, and two children live in the country outside London — some books he is reading, and an intricate Spider-Man sculpture made of chocolate that the staff of the hotel gave him on his 67th birthday in February.The confection, inspired by Sony’s hit movie franchise and which Stringer is quite touched by, sits in a plastic case on the coffee table by the sofa. While he could not bring himself to eat it — and it’s starting to get a bit discolored at this point — he can’t bring himself to throw it out either. With hotel occupancy down amid the deepest Japanese recession since World War II, Stringer is a coveted guest. “This room keeps getting cheaper and cheaper,” he says. “They give an incredible price.”

Stringer chose hotel living over buying or renting a home in Tokyo because he likes having the bustle of people around him. Besides, he never really planned to be here quite so much: When he became Sony’s chairman and CEO in 2005, the plan was for New York, his home for four decades, to remain his primary residence, and for him to jet to England (where he is Sir Howard) on weekends. He expected to spend only half his time in Tokyo, where he is Stringer Kaicho (chairman).

Sony’s woes, especially since the global economic crisis rattled Japan, have led to his staying here 11 of the year’s first 14 weeks — a situation compounded by his hospitalization over the Christmas holidays with an intestinal malady. “I feel like I’m on the fringes of my old life,” he says. “If I had this to all do over again, I don’t know sometimes.”

Doesn’t this sound like the plot of the greatest reality TV show of all time? Let’s watch a Welsh Knight in Japan lose his mind in the daily life of a CEO at Sony. It sure would be really strange to visit Tokyo and stay in a hotel, and you happen to pass by Howard Stringer in his pajamas getting ice from the ice machine. You think after weeks of staying in a hotel room you would just move on to an apartment, or maybe build a new one on the top of the numerous Sony buildings in Japan. They should make an apartment for him in the Sony Building, and people can tour his place while he’s working to bring more visitors. “Here honey, get a picture of me and the kids with the chocolate Spider-Man sculpture.”

All joking aside, it does worry me to see that Stringer faced stomache complications over the Holidays last year. I sincerely hope everything is better since then – I couldn’t even tell anything was wrong with him when he spoke during Sony’s keynote at CES 2009.

There’s other delicious items in this Fortune artcile for you to read, such as:

At the same time, he reconfigured the company into two new core groups and elevated four English-speaking Japanese executives in their late forties and fifties — relative greenhorns by Japanese standards — to run them. Corporate troubleshooter and former TV division head Hiroshi Yoshioka, the eldest of the group at 56, now oversees a $50 billion consumer products group that includes TVs, stereos, DVD and Blu-ray players, and camcorders.

Kazuo “Kaz” Hirai, 48, a marketing whiz who had been running Sony’s games business, now oversees a much broader networked-products and services group that is home to PlayStations, Vaio computers, and Sony’s Walkman audio line. It also is tasked with the critical job of creating a new set of digital services that will tie all of Sony’s gadgets and gizmos together. Kunai Suzuki, 48, is Hirai’s deputy and will run the Vaio business but will also have responsibility for incubating a next generation of devices for this networked world. Rounding out the four is Yoshihisa “Bob” Ishida, 49, a well-regarded strategist with an outspoken style whose assignment is to revitalize the TV-display business.

Stringer, in a typically impromptu moment at a press conference in February announcing the changes, dubbed the core of his new team the “four musketeers.” Beyond the four, Stringer created centralized corporate functions like manufacturing and procurement, and hired an IBM executive, George Bailey, as the company’s first “chief transformation officer.” And other big but less central businesses, like Sony’s film, music, and financial arms, still report to Stringer.

Finally, after years of promise, it finally seems that Sony is propelling everything it has together and will soon build devices that are completely interconnected. Does this mean that the Playstation Store will soon become the Sony Store? It gets better.

Sony believes it has two advantages that its rivals lacked: it already has a big presence in people’s living rooms, and has a template for new Net-based businesses in the form of PlayStation Network, the online service that runs with the game system. The network has 23 million users, and in the U.S. it has been selling TV shows and films as well as music and games. An online service called Life With PlayStation, introduced last year, gives news feeds, weather, and camera feeds from around the world. Another recent product, PlayStation Home, is a virtual world designed to create communities among gamers. The team of engineers that designed PlayStation Network, like dozens of others around the company, now reports to Tim Schaaff, an Apple veteran who Stringer hired as Sony’s first head of software development.

One other nugget of gold is the announcement that a new wireless version of the Sony Reader will be coming soon:

The Sony Reader is the most jarring recent example of the way Sony’s internal structures and culture have led to missed opportunities. The device had first been developed in isolation by a group of engineers in the home-audio division; that group’s urgent focus was to try to revitalize the Walkman brand in the face of the iPod onslaught. Stringer, who collects rare books, was a strong proponent of the Reader, but earlier versions of the product fizzled in the Japanese market. Limited enthusiasm in Japan curtailed the project, even though more than three-quarters of Sony’s sales are outside the country. Stringer blames himself for not pushing harder for the Reader — which also lacked Kindle’s deep publisher relationships — and vows to catch up with a new wireless model. “It rankled me,” he says of the episode, “because it made me aware of the limitations of my power.”

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