Sony’s video game unit named the head of its U.S. operations as president Thursday, replacing the so-called “father of the PlayStation,” Ken Kutaragi, just as the company is rolling out its newest version of the PlayStation 3.
The appointment of Kazuo Hirai to the global management team comes at a crucial time for Sony Corp., which sorely needs a big hit in its PlayStation 3 to repair its battered reputation and books.
Kutaragi will stay on as chief executive and also become chairman of Sony Computer Entertainment, and the company said he will continue to play a key role in the video game business.
The addition of Hirai, president and chief executive of Sony Computer Entertainment America, also reflects Sony’s efforts to make its top ranks more international.
Sony announced Thursday that it was appointing an American, Jack Tretton, head of its U.S. gaming business to replace Hirai. He’s the first non-Japanese to assume that post.
Tretton, executive vice president at Sony’s U.S. gaming unit, helped oversee the launches of the PlayStation series in North America.
“Given his experience and exceptional reputation in the industry, I can think of no better person to assume the helm of the PlayStation brand in the US, Canada and Latin America,” Hirai said of Tretton.
The recent management changes in Sony Corp.'s video game division were needed to ensure the success of the PS3, Sony President Ryoji Chubachi told a newspaper Friday.
"Work of each executive in the gaming business has increased," Chubachi said in an interview with the Nihon Keizai Shimbun, Japan's top business daily. "It's growing as a business in the U.S. and Europe, and a lot of work is involved to keep up with all the changes."
The PS3 went on sale in November in Japan and the U.S. to eager fans waiting in long lines overnight. But Sony has stumbled in mass-producing the consoles. Its sale in Europe was postponed until March and a global launch had been expected last spring.
When a delay was announced in September, Kutaragi blamed the electronics division because of the problems involved in mass-producing parts for the Blu-ray next-generation video.
In Japan, company presidents run the daily business operations and being promoted to chairman sometimes disguises retirement or demotion. In some cases, a chairman can be extremely influential, especially if the executive is charismatic and publicly popular as is Kutaragi.
"Mr. Kutaragi's strength is his knowledge of technology," Chubachi was quoted as saying in the Nikkei. "His position is, of course, chief executive, but this means he will especially be looking closely at the area of technological development."
Kutaragi was once rumored to be on the star track to lead Sony. But he was sidelined last year in a management shuffle that put Howard Stringer in charge — the first foreigner to head the electronics company.
Kutaragi was taken off the board of Sony to head just Sony Computer Entertainment.