Sony appears to be lining up Kazuo Hirai, current head of its gaming division, as the replacement for Howard Stringer, its 69-year-old current CEO, as it announced a corporate reorganization Thursday.
The Network Products Services division, which includes the PlayStation operations, is to be merged with the main consumer electronics division from April 1 to form a Consumer Products & Services Group -- to be headed by Hirai, in probable preparation for the top job.
"The board and I have talked about the succession plan, this is the first step but we have not made a final decision. It's an opportunity for the board to watch Hirai-san and to judge his performance," Stringer told reporters at a roundtable in Tokyo.
Fifty-year-old Hirai is the former head of the U.S. gaming division (1999-2006), and a smooth public speaker in Japanese and English.
A statement from Sony praised Hirai for having "successfully led the turnaround of the games business…and directed the launch of Sony's new networked service platform," going on to say "In his expanded role, Mr. Hirai will extend his focus to developing a new generation of compelling products…"
Hirai will also assume the titles of executive deputy president and representative corporate executive officer.
The current head of the consumer electronics division, Hiroshi Yoshioka, will take over a new Professional & Device Solutions Group, which will include the semiconductor business, other business-to-business operations and content sold to broadcasters.
Sony also announced that Stringer "has accepted our request to continue his leadership of the company as chairman, CEO and president, and we will fully support him and his newly configured senior management team," but didn't specify for how much longer.
Stringer, who divides his time between Tokyo, New York, Los Angeles and London, didn't attend a talk show and screening of The Social Network on Monday, reportedly suffering back pain after returning from India, where he was promoting Sony's 3D technology.