Sony’s smooth move

Most of the ink on Sony’s selection of a new CEO has stressed the guy’s ethnicity, which is reasonable considering Sony’s a typically racist Japanese company, but there’s a lot more to the story:

With the appointment of Howard Stringer as chairman and chief executive, Sony has not only turned to a foreigner but to a strong proponent of the “content” side of the company, a move that could mark a profound shift in its strategy.

Profound indeed. Sony and brethren gadget companies are finding their traditional, slow-moving, hidebound business practices don’t enable them to dominate the gadget business as they once did. Advances in semiconductor process make assembly efficiency relatively unimportant, and the superior creativity of Americans and the killer work ethic of Koreans threaten to leave them behind. Sony Corp. realized this a decade ago and made a big move on the content side, leaving gadgets to atrophy.

Stringer did some amazing things with the music and movie businesses from a management point of view, so much so that their earnings dominate the company’s bottom line.

So Sony is going to be increasingly a content company, and increasingly a true multi-national rather than a Samurai shop.

What happens to the Japaneses companies that haven’t made this shift, and stand to have their clocks cleaned by everybody from Dell to the Koreans is an interesting exercise of imagination. I suspect some of them will concentrate on the Japanese domestic market for consumer whitegoods such as washers, fridges, and the like and leave electronics altogether.

UPDATE: A Japanese friends tells me they’re saying Stringer’s schedule is written in Japanese. Some folks are not too happy about this.