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Hirai pledges 'One Sony' effort to strengthen robotics, AI

Sony Director, President and CEO Kazuo Hirai

TOKYO -- After undergoing a painful restructuring, Sony now sees a clear path out of the woods, the company's director, president and CEO Kazuo Hirai said Tuesday in Tokyo. And what lies ahead are shining opportunities in robotics and artificial intelligence.

Speaking at the Nikkei Global Management Forum on Nov. 8, the 55-year-old chief, now five years into his presidency, said it will be a "One Sony" effort involving all sections of the electronics company to pursue those opportunities.

"There are a lot of applications in the home, including elderly health care," Hirai said. "We should look at all the assets scattered across the company and put them together, leveraging a lot of technology that we already have in-house, to create a new business that has a lot of growth potential."

Some 70 years old and employing 125,000 people worldwide, Sony is hardly a startup. Yet when it comes to innovation and new products, Hirai said large companies have advantages that compensate for the agility they may have lost during their earlier high-growth days. "Sony has the experience, the production machinery and the diverse range of personnel belonging to the group, including experts in entertainment and finance, who can collaborate freely," the CEO said.

Sony CEO Kazuo Hirai speaks at the Nikkei Global Management Forum in Tokyo on Nov. 8.

Hirai talked about how courageous decisions have helped Sony in the past, such as investing in network services 10 years ago for the PlayStation platform at a time when games were distributed mainly through DVDs or BD-ROMs. "Initially, it made absolutely no contribution to earnings," he said. But that move formed the foundation of the success that PlayStation enjoys today, Hirai said.

In the music field, Sony has had to adapt to the shifts from cassette tapes to CDs to digital music. "In markets where CDs are declining fast and do not create value, we have outsourced CD distribution to outside parties," Hirai said. 

The 18th Nikkei Global Management Forum is hosted by Nikkei, IMD and the Harvard Business School. Over the two days through Wednesday, CEOs from leading companies will be sharing their thoughts on the theme "Achieving Breakthroughs in an Uncertain World."

Nikkei Inc. President and CEO Naotoshi Okada opened the forum by saying leadership will be crucial to surviving and achieving sustainable growth in this time of global uncertainty. "The sort of leadership that enables breakthroughs," Okada said.

While introducing the speakers, Dominique Turpin, president of Swiss business school IMD, said: "We have been looking at Sony and we are quite energized by the prospects we see. The internet of things is offering great opportunities to companies like Sony."

Watch the entire session on video. The speech in the first half was given in Japanese and is followed by a discussion in English:

http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/92679839

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