Sir Howard Stringer is chairman and CEO of Sony, and the first non-Japanese executive to hold either position.
Born in Wales (the future globe-trotting CEO spent his infancy in a house with no electricity) and educated at Oxford, Stringer set off for America shortly after graduating college in 1965, arriving in New York with $200 in his pocket. He took his first job sorting mail on The Ed Sullivan Show. But just months after arriving stateside, Stringer was drafted to serve in Vietnam and he was faced with the choice of returning home to the U.K. or setting off for Southeast Asia. He chose the latter, and ultimately earned a U.S. Army commendation medal for meritorious achievement. After returning from the war, Stringer worked as a documentary producer at CBS News; during one especially fruitful stretch from 1974 to 1976, he earned nine Emmys as writer, director, or producer. In 1986, he was named president of CBS News. Two years later he was placed in charge of CBS, where among other accomplishments, he poached David Letterman from NBC.
After clashing with CBS's then-owner, Larry Tisch, in 1995 Stringer departed the network to run the ill-fated interactive television venture TELE-TV. (He took the job at the urging of pal Michael Ovitz.) Many years ahead of its time, TELE-TV ended up fizzling out two years later, and Stringer signed on as the CEO of Sony's U.S. operations. In 2005, he was named chief executive of Sony's Tokyo-based parent company, replacing Nobuyuki Idei, making him the first foreigner to head the Japanese electronics, music, and movie conglomerate.
The last decade hasn't been especially kind to Sony. The electronics pioneer that created the Walkman, Trinitron TV, and PlayStation has seen its legacy of innovation undermined by a slew of new, more popular gizmos and gadgets, like Apple's iPod, Microsoft's Xbox, and Nintendo's Wii. And the notion that marrying a hardware company with an entertainment company would create a media powerhouse yielded precious few of the "synergies" that had been touted in the 1990s. After Sony lost money for the first time in a decade in 2004, it became clear to its Japanese bosses that an outsider was needed to shake things up.
A consummate corporate diplomat, Stringer was viewed as the man who could handle the tough task with tact, a quality he's needed as he's made deep cuts, shuttered factories, and restructured the company's notoriously Byzantine engineering process. The jury is still out on whether he'll succeed at making Sony's unique position as a hardware company and a content owner a net positive rather than a source of conflict. But Stringer has carried out several savvy moves to fortify the company's position: His decision to combine Sony's troubled music unit with Bertelsmann's BMG was viewed as a smart decision (notwithstanding management difficulties at SonyBMG); he's also earned kudos for aggressively expanding Sony's content library with the $5 billion acquisition of MGM.
On the job
Stringer doesn't speak Japanese (he says at his age, it was too difficult to learn) but he has a translator by his side when he's at Sony's Tokyo office. (In Japan, his primary deputy is Ryoji Chubachi, who is responsible for overseeing the company's electronics business.) Stringer spends more of his time at Sony's Madison Avenue offices, where he works closely with Rob Wiesenthal, Sony's CFO and chief dealmaker, and Nicole Seligman (the wife of schools chief Joel Klein) who's general counsel. Other senior execs include Michael Lynton and Amy Pascal, who oversee Sony's film and TV operations from LA. Sony's music labels—which are part of the Sony BMG joint venture—are overseen by Sir Howard's brother, Rob Stringer.
Although he's an American now—he took U.S. citizenship in 1985—Stringer was knighted by the Queen of England in 1999. He's known as "Sir Howard" around the office.
Stringer is married to dermatologist Dr. Jennifer A.K. Patterson. They have two children, David and Harriet. In New York, Stringer owns an apartment at 1107 Fifth Avenue—he paid $16 million for the three-bedroom penthouse in 2005. (Ralph Lauren and Bob Schumer live in the same building.) Previously, the Stringers owned a townhouse in the area. Following the construction of a 10-story building nearby, they sold the property for $8.75 million. The family also has a large property in England, which is where Patterson and Stringer's kids spend most of their time. Stringer makes use of one of Sony's jets to shuttle between New York, England, and Tokyo.