Sony promotes Kaz Hirai

Games business chief promoted to head of consumer products unit, putting him in line to succeed Sir Howard Stringer as CEO.

Kaz Hirai has done well at Sony--so well, in fact, that he's now in line to be its next leader. Reuters reports today that the game-industry veteran has been promoted to executive deputy president, effective April 1. The move will put him in charge of a reorganized Consumer Products & Devices Group, the company's largest division. Previously, he had been leading the Networked Products & Services Group, which includes Sony Computer Entertainment.

Kaz Hirai is livin' large at Sony.

The move puts the 50-year-old Hirai in a position to succeed Sir Howard Stringer as Sony's CEO. The 69-year-old Welshman, the first non-Japanese head of the company, is expected to retire in 2013.

"The board and I have talked about succession planning, and this is the first step. We have not made a final decision," Stringer announced at a Tokyo press conference earlier today. "This is an opportunity for the board to watch Hirai-san and judge his performance. There may be other candidates, but he has a leadership position."

The move marks another high point in Hirai's ascent at Sony, which he joined in 1984 as part of its music group. In 1995, he transferred to Sony Computer Entertainment America, rising through the ranks to become its president and CEO. In a 2006 management shakeup, Hirai replaced Ken Kutaragi as president of Sony Computer Entertainment Inc. in Japan, where he helped turn around the then-money-losing PlayStation business. Sony's latest financial report showed that the Networked Products & Services Group's income nearly doubled during the October-December quarter of 2010.

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