Kazuo Hirai’s promotion at Sony makes him possible successor to Howard Stringer

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Sony Corp. on Thursday announced the promotion of Kazuo Hirai, the head of its PlayStation and Vaio business, to assume control of its vast consumer electronics business.

The move appeared to give Hirai, 50, a leg up in the four-way race to succeed Sony Chief Executive Howard Stringer, 68, who is expected to retire within a couple of years. The other three candidates are said to be Hiroshi Yoshioka, Yoshihisa Ishida and Kunimasa Suzuki. Stringer had dubbed his lieutenants ‘The Four Musketeers.’

Hirai, a native of Japan, became a fluent English speaker during his years in Foster City, Calif., heading up Sony’s PlayStation game business in North America. His return to Japan as head of the company’s connected devices group, in a reorganization Stringer spearheaded, put him in pole position to contend for the top job.

Stringer’s priorities since becoming head of the sprawling Japanese electronics and entertainment company in 2005 have been cutting costs and connecting more of Sony’s devices, including televisions and Blu-ray players, to the Internet. Hirai was seen as instrumental in helping Sony make that transition, and his promotion is widely seen as recognition of that project.


Still, Hirai’s chance of landing the top job is not assured and it will likely be a year or two before Sony, whose succession plans have been stately and painfully deliberate, names a new CEO.

-- Alex Pham