TOKYO -- With an end to restructuring in sight for its electronics operations, Sony is finally back in the race. The company will now cultivate new markets by continuing to focus on consumer hardware and employing cutting-edge technologies to express what makes it unique, President and CEO Kazuo Hirai told The Nikkei on Thursday.
Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: It's been four years since you became president. You had said you wanted to change Sony. How is that going?
A: We've been building a company that takes on challenges even with risks. If front-line workers come up with interesting ideas, the company supports their path to the market despite the risks. We're working to roll out Sony-style products employing robotics and artificial intelligence. We've reached a phase in which we must shift gears to "growth" and generate profit.
Q: The company's group earnings turned to the black for the first time in three years in fiscal 2015. Has Sony made a comeback?
A: We're still halfway. Sony's revival involves getting consumers to acknowledge that our offerings are interesting. We have to constantly release products that impress people and stimulate curiosity. We must also meet the targets of increasing operating profit to 500 billion yen for the first time in 20 years in fiscal 2017 and raising return on equity to at least 10%.
That things are starting to go well is precisely why we must have a sense of urgency. With the perception that we're still halfway to the ideal, we'll continue running, chasing the carrot.
Q: Some people say Sony has lost uniqueness.
A: Everyone has a different understanding of what constitutes Sony's uniqueness, but I think it's about "wowing" people. Some say that the advance of cloud computing technology shifts added value to software and turns hardware into a commodity. But the importance of hardware remains in that it's the final point of contact with consumers. Sony's strength lies in making products in this area that appeal to consumer sensibilities. In this sense, we aim to be a vital presence at the "last one inch" with our customers.
Q: The PlayStation VR, available to preorder since late June, is doing well. How do you perceive the future of virtual reality technology?
A: We started out with games but will eventually apply it in various group operations, including cameras, content, communications and editing equipment, to offer a broad array of virtual reality products and services. Sony's health care operations are another potential area of application. This would be a business of very significant benefit.
There are infinite ways in which Sony can change how it operates. For example, we got into the real estate business based on employees' ideas. We became the first in Japan to allow sales of properties between consumers via the internet. Taking on challenges without cowering is one aspect of Sony's uniqueness.
Interviewed by Nikkei staff writer Rei Nakafuji