Kaz Hirai Steps Down as Sony CEO

He will remain on as chairman

Kaz Hirai introduces the latest generation of the robotic pet, Aibo, during a press event for CES 2018 Credit: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Sony Corporation chief, and one time head of PlayStation, Kaz Hirai plans to step-down as CEO of the company this April, handing off leadership to confidant and business partner CFO Kenichiro Yoshida, Sony announced Friday. He will stay on as chairman.

Hirai proposed the change to the Sony Nominating Committee, which was approved by the Sony Board of Directors at a Board meeting held Thursday. Yoshida will become CEO on April 1st, exactly six year's after Hirai took on the role.

"As the company approaches a crucial juncture, when we will embark on a new mid-range plan, I consider this to be the ideal time to pass the baton of leadership to new management, for the future of Sony and also for myself to embark on a new chapter in my life," Hirai said in a prepared statement.

Hirai was drawn to Sony and the entertainment business in the '80s by his love of video games. After a more than decade long stint at the company's music division, he joined Sony Computer Entertainment America in 1995. In 2006, Hirai replaced Ken Kutaragi, the father of the PlayStation, as president of Sony Computer Entertainment. Hirai was appointed president and chief executive officer of Sony effective April 1, 2012.

During his tenure as the head of SCEA, Hirai helped with and oversaw the rise and dominance of the PlayStation and PlayStation 2. He was also the face of the PlayStation 3's unfortunate unveiling and it's failure to maintain its top position in the competition against Microsoft's Xbox 360 and Nintendo's Wii. Heading many of those big press conferences, Hirai was the one who announced the surprisingly high price of the PS3, enthusiastically saying it required a "huge financial investment." (Kutaragi later outdid him by telling one interviewer that people would need a second job to buy the console.) During that same 2006 E3 press conference, Hirai also tried to excite the audience by shouting out "Ridge Racer" when unveiling the title for Sony's Playstation Portable. That soon became a meme. 

By the end of the PlayStation 3 lifecycle, though, the console had made up much of its lost ground. The PlayStation 4 went on to have a successful launch in 2013, and remains one of the dominant, current-gen consoles on the market. 

Variety's sources say that Hirai decided to leave his position in part because he’s worn down from the travel schedule he’s maintained during the past six years as CEO. He aims to spend more time with his family at his home in Northern California. Sources said Hirai has indicated to insiders he intends to remain involved with Sony’s U.S.-based entertainment businesses in his new chairman role, which could mean a return to focus on the game-side of Sony's North American business.

Yoshida, Hirai's replacement, said he plans to build on the business foundations established by Hirai, and "execute further reform measures that enhance our competitiveness as a global enterprise, and enable us to realize long-term profit growth. This is a hugely exciting time at Sony as we look to our future, and together with my management team I intend to determine the best path for us to move forward, and devote my full effort to creating a better Sony that captures the imagination of our many stakeholders around the world."