* Hirai defends retaining Stringer as chairman
* CEO remains mum on potential Olympus investment
* Investors remain unconvinced on revival plan
* Future rests on mobile devices, games and imaging
* New medical business also in development
By Tim Kelly
TOKYO, June 27 Sony Corp's new CEO,
Kazuo Hirai, on Wednesday defended retaining his predecessor,
Howard Stringer, as chairman of the board and promised his
turnaround strategy will save Japan's troubled consumer
Hirai outlined the revival plan, first announced in April,
that stakes Sony's future on mobile devices such as the Xperia
smartphone, gaming and digital imaging, while developing new
businesses, including a medical unit.
Hurt by mounting losses in its TV business, Hirai said the
plan will expand group sales by a third to 8.5 trillion yen
($106.97 billion) in two years with an operating margin of more
than 5 percent.
Hirai also revealed a target for tripling online gaming
network sales by March 2015, but added few new details to a plan
that has so far failed to convince investors a turnaround is
imminent for the maker of Bravia TVs, Vaio laptops and
PlayStation games consoles.
A record 9,303 shareholders gathered at a hotel in Tokyo to
hear Hirai chair his first annual meeting. Stringer also took to
the podium to say he deeply regretted a record loss of 456.7
billion yen ($5.75 billion) in the year ended March 31.
Interrupted by hecklers, Stringer blamed Japan's 2011 earthquake
and production-disrupting floods in Thailand for the loss.
When asked by a shareholder why Sony was keeping Stringer
and vice chairman Ryoji Chubachi on the board after such a heavy
loss, Hirai said he "needed the advice and support of Stringer
Sony's share price since Hirai's elevation has dropped by 36
percent compared with a smaller 13 percent dip in the Topix
index and a 19 percent decline in local competitor Panasonic
Corp, which also held its annual shareholders meeting
Sony's market value at Tuesday's closing price was $13.9
billion, less than one-tenth of the $158 billion worth of its
main foreign rival, Samsung Electronics.
Apart from questioning Stringer's new position, shareholders
asked for more details on Hirai's revival strategy and quizzed
the company about the impact of a strong yen on profits. The
meeting, as expected, approved Stringer's appointment and those
of 13 other board candidates, including Hirai.
One attendee sought confirmation of a local media report
that Sony was preparing to invest 50 billion yen in endoscope
maker Olympus Corp as that company struggles to bolster
its financial standing in the wake of its huge accounting
"We are not at the stage where we can comment," Hirai said,
neither confirming nor denying the report.