Stringer, Howard

Stringer, Howard
▪ 2006

      In March 2005 the giant Japanese technology and entertainment company Sony broke with tradition by appointing Welsh-born Howard Stringer as its first non-Japanese chairman and CEO. At age 63 Stringer could have chosen a quieter life and a lesser challenge, but that would have been out of character for a man who had never taken the easy road.

      Stringer was born in Cardiff, Wales, on Feb. 19, 1942. After studying modern history at Merton College, Oxford, he left in 1965 with a master's degree and no idea what he wanted to do for a living but with a passion to find his vocation in the United States. He found a job in the television industry answering telephones at CBS for the Ed Sullivan Show in New York City. Six weeks after he started work, Stringer's thoughts of building a career in the media were interrupted when he was drafted into the U.S. Army to fight in Vietnam. He declined to exploit his foreign nationality to avoid the draft and won five medals during his tour of duty—an achievement he later played down by saying, self-deprecatingly, that he was “in charge of medals” in his company.

      After completing his military service, Stringer returned to CBS, where he stayed until 1995. For most of that time, he worked for CBS News, including three years as the executive producer of the CBS Evening News with Dan Rather, and two years as president of CBS News. Between 1974 and 1976 he won nine Emmy Awards as a writer, director, and executive producer. As president (1988–95) of CBS, he turned the company's fortunes around. Among his successes was hiring late-night talk-show host David Letterman from NBC in 1993.

      In 1997 Stringer joined Sony as president of the company's American subsidiary. He turned its unprofitable entertainment operations around and made several successful acquisitions, including the highly profitable Spider-Man franchise and MGM's library of classic films. As an outsider, Stringer was also able to bring a new strategy to Sony's music division, which he steered into a merger with Bertelsmann. Stringer's successes prompted Sony to appoint him to head the company, hoping that he would restore the fortunes of the corporation, which had once been synonymous with Japanese technological prowess but which had slipped so badly that by early 2005 its market value was only half that of the South Korean company Samsung. Sony's failure was not just financial; although it was a longtime provider of the latest “must-have” technology products, its status among consumers had fallen behind such innovative companies as Apple Computer Corp. On becoming chairman of Sony, Stringer said that his ambition was to make the company “cool again.”

      Though Stringer became a U.S. citizen in 1985, he received an honorary British knighthood in 1999.

Peter Kellner

* * *

Universalium. 2010.

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