The Business On... Kazuo Hirai, Executive Deputy President, Sony

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The Independent Online

Isn't that rather a grand title?

It's a new one too. Mr Hirai, whocurrently runs Sony's video games business – the world of PlayStation in other words – got a big promotion yesterday and now looks a shoo-in for the top job at the company.

Who's in charge now?

That would be Sir Howard Stringer, the Welshman to whom Sony handed the reins five years ago. Sir Howard, now 69, isn't ready to go just yet, but does want to get a succession plan in place. Yesterday's upgrade for Mr Hirai appears to be that plan.

Tell us about him.

Well, aged 50, Mr Hirai has been at Sony his entire working life, though he started out in its music business. A couple of years back, Sir Howardsingled out a quartet of Sony executives as possible successors. Mr Hirai was one of that group, whom the boss dubbed "the four musketeers".

What does he bring to the party?

Loyalty and technical knowhow. Mr Hirai spent years working for Ken Kutaragai, thought of as the creator of PlayStation, and in recent years has turned the video games business into one of Sony's biggest profitcentres. He spotted the potential for PlayStation in an internet-connected world and has exploited that.

Still, this sounds like Sonyturning inwards.

Not really. Sir Howard's tenure at Sony is always quoted as a rare example of a Westerner leading a Japanese business. But Mr Hirai has always been an internationalist, has spent long periods abroad and speaks English fluently. He's more than happy to make big public presentations in his second language.

So when will he get the big job?

In public at least, Sir Howard won't say how long he plans to stay on Sony. He's also said Mr Hirai's new job is effectively an audition.

What does he have to do to pass?

Sony is merging its video game and consumer electronics business under Mr Hirai's leadership. The latter has not performed well — the TV manufacturing business, for example, loses money – and Mr Hirai has to turn things around.