So now it’s all-too-apparent why Sony’s corporate flackery was working 24/7 to generate those many media puff pieces about Sir Howard Stringer (see my previous No Sony Product Gets This Much Great PR). Because he was facing 7,000 shareholders for the first time as CEO at Thursday’s annual meeting. Specifically, facing grumbling, disgruntled, worried shareholders — to use the adjectives in the AP story out of Tokyo — demanding to know why Sony was losing so much money, After all, Howard’s been head of the Japanese corporate for a year, yet Sony’s 2006 1st quarter losses widened to 66.5 billion yen ($578 million) from a 56.5 billion yen loss a year ago. All that media praise for Stringer was an integral part of his pre-meeting strategy. Why? Because the Japanese traditionally believe everything they read, or so I’ve been told over the years, and these U.S. articles get distributed widely in that country’s press.
There were many moments at the annual meeting where this could have been Michael Eisner facing Disney shareholders redux. Like the Japanese woman who was unhappy that the Sony shares she bought at 14,000 yen ($120) are now worth only 4,940 yen ($43). “I bought shares in mighty Sony,’ AP quoted her as complaining to Stringer et al, “What are you going to do about this?” By all accounts, Teflon Howie tap-danced his way through the meeting by pointing to what he claimed was the start of a recovery in Sony’s core electronics business. But AP quoted a 64-year-old Sony investor as saying after the meeting he was disappointed with Stringer’s explanations. “I wasn’t convinced he was going to bring back the legend of Sony. There’s this big gap with our image of Sony from the past. We have such big hopes.” I’m sure it will comfort this shareholder, and the others, to know that even if Sony’s image is dull and tarnished, Sir Howard’s is gleaming right now thanks to all that media spit-polishing.