The rumors of storied Sony exec Kazuo (Kaz) Hirai’s succession as CEO were not at all exaggerated. The PlayStation purveyor confirmed last week that its games console wunderkind Hirai will level up on April 1 and take over as president and CEO of the Japanese electronics goliath.
The general reaction has been positive. There is a consensus on current CEO Sir Howard Stringer’s struggles and over-stayed welcome, as well as Hirai’s eminent fitness for assuming the reins. Hirai is a familiar face to at least hardcore gamers, since he worked his way up through Sony via the PlayStation. So I admit that, as a gamer, I have a bit of an irrational prejudice for Hirai. (May I call you Kaz?) It’s nice to see someone I feel is “one of my own” take control of the whole ship.
Taking just a brief step back, however, makes me realize this may be glittering, but it’s not necessarily gold. Most analysts would agree that a change has been needed at the head office in Tokyo for awhile. One of the most compelling cases is, ironically, also the one that seems to put the biggest question mark over Hirai’s head: the PlayStation.
Observers such as CNET’s Don Reisinger rightly bemoan Stringer’s handling of the PlayStation Network breach that occurred in early 2011, as well as the decline of the PlayStation brand. But hang on a second — who has been more directly involved in that side of the business? Not only has Hirai been the more direct navigator of all things PlayStation recently, but he has also been knee-deep in Sony games since before the legendary DualShock controller, joining Sony Computer Entertainment America in 1995. Yes, that includes the years of the insanely successful PlayStation 2, but he has remained the face of the PlayStation even in these darker days.
It might sound like I think folks like Reisinger are dead wrong. Well, maybe just maimed wrong. The points about Stringer’s muck up of both the PlayStation breach and brand are sound, and Reisinger’s praise of Hirai’s stepping into the breach, so to speak, is warranted. Ultimately, Stringer is responsible for the performance of all of the company’s operations. My flag-waving is not about shifting blame from Stringer to Hirai, nor is it necessarily that I think Hirai can’t revive my beloved console maker. I just think that in regarding him as a replacement, onlookers might want to consider the ground he just finished tilling before forecasting bumper crops.
However it shakes out (and I’m pulling for Kaz), it looks like we’ll be living in our world, but playing in Hirai’s.