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商业 - 科技

索尼如何起死回生

Kevin Kelleher 2015年05月26日

忆往昔,索尼这一品牌几乎是“完美品质”的代名词。但进入21世纪后,这家日本公司从神坛坠落,似乎将要被历史的尘埃淹没。不过,在CEO平井一夫的带领下,经过多年跌跌撞撞的试错之后,索尼终于扭亏为盈,展现出真正的复苏迹象。

    索尼总裁兼CEO平井一夫

    历史上曾经跌下神坛的消费电子公司为数不少,但恐怕没有哪家公司比索尼跌得更猛了。不过,在多年跌跌撞撞的摸索和改错之后,索尼终于展现出真正的复苏迹象。

    正如苹果在本世纪初的复苏主要是靠iPod的推动一样,索尼最初大获成功,也是因为抓住了“帮助人们随时随地听音乐”这个卖点。上世纪50和60年代,索尼首先推出便携式晶体管收音机,然后又推出风靡一时的Walkman磁带式随身听。这些产品加上优秀的工艺,使索尼这一品牌几乎成为“完美品质”的代名词。

    进入21世纪后,索尼开始渐渐失去竞争优势。三星等竞争对手迅速崛起,蚕食了索尼高端电视和立体声业务的不少份额。在MP3播放器等新市场上,索尼也没能获得立足之地。早些时候,索尼曾向保险领域扩张,并在影视和音乐行业投入重资,导致它的业务结构变得臃肿而碎片化。

    2005年,索尼任命霍华德•斯特林格担任公司CEO。斯特林格虽然魅力非凡,但他不会说日语,在媒体行业干了一辈子的斯特林格也缺乏工程方面的背景。斯特林格企图把索尼的电子和媒体资源进行整合,但最终还是没了下文。(斯特林格也是时代公司的董事会成员。)此外,索尼还接连遭受各种天灾人祸:2009年的全球大萧条,2011年的福岛大地震,强势日元也对索尼的出口业务造成了冲击。

    过去7年,索尼有6年都宣告亏损。2012年,索尼在纽交所交易的美国存托凭证(又称ADR,是一种在美国交易的股票,但代表的是一家外国公司特定数量的股权)也从2008年的55美元下跌至10美元以下。它的信用评级也下跌到接近垃圾级。但在此之后,情况开始有所好转:2012年跌至不足10美元的谷底之后,时至本月,索尼ADR已反弹至33美元,也就是说,在短短两年半的时间里上涨了238%。

    这种变化是从2012年初,平井一夫接替斯特林格执掌索尼后开始的。平井一夫是索尼的老臣子,曾经帮助PlayStation等不景气的业务重新获得利润,由此声名鹊起。和斯特林格一样,平井一夫也不是传统的日本白领。平井一夫在日本和北美两地长大,能说流利的英文,同时说话也十分坦率。比如他曾对《华尔街日报》的记者谈到他的新工作:“简直是一个问题接着一个问题。那种感觉就像是:‘我靠,又咋了?’”

    在随后的三年里,平井一夫开始了一项雄心勃勃的重组计划。他迅速宣布实施“一个索尼”架构,该架构以斯特林格的整合计划为基础,并将重点放在通讯和各个碎片化部门的联合决策上。在电子业务方面,他决定重点发展移动、游戏和图像产品。在此期间,他相继裁掉数千名员工,出售Vaio电脑部门,剥离过时的电视业务,并重组了智能手机产品线。

    所有这些,再加上重组成本,都加剧了索尼的财务亏损。不过真正的谷底直到去年11月才到来,那场著名的黑客入侵事件使索尼影业的许多敏感文件曝露在公众的视线之下。但也就是在这个最艰难的时候,有些分析师开始断言索尼即将扭亏为盈。对于这次转折,辛苦种树的人是斯特林格,到了平井一夫这里终于结出了果实。

    在索尼最近的收益报告里,这种令人欣慰的势头显得更加明显。去年,索尼的财务状况出现了一些令人鼓舞的迹象,比如营业收入上涨了6%,电视业务也出现了11年以来的首次盈利。更好的消息则是经过谨慎预测的来年收益。

    索尼财务总监吉田健一郎表示,索尼更大的重组还在后面。而且虽然本财年的营收可能会下降4%,但营业利润可能会上涨4倍,达到26亿美元,这也是索尼自2008年以来营业利润最高的一年。平井一夫曾预言,到2018年,索尼的净收入会也到40亿美元以上,这也将是索尼自1998年以来净收入最高的一年。

    尽管如此,索尼仍有一些重组工作要做。索尼今年的营收下降,主要是因为它放弃了中端智能手机,全力进攻高端市场所致。另外虽然索尼的照相机业务持续下跌,但它用于智能手机的图像传感器业务却出现了强势增长。总而言之,索尼将成为一家营收更小但销售额更大的公司,同时它将缓慢而稳定地从过时的市场转向新兴市场。

    要想真正扭亏为盈,索尼需要的不只是削减成本和重组这么简单。要想在新兴领域占据领先地位,索尼还有很长的路要走,还有很多的工作要做。但至少现在看来,能够重新盈利,就已经是10多年来索尼最重大的一个转折点了。(财富中文网)

    译者:朴成奎

    审校:任文科

    In the annals of consumer electronics companies that have slipped from great heights, none has taken a bigger fall far from its glory days than Sony. But after years of struggling to right itself, the company is finally making real progress on a turnaround.

    Just as Apple helped revive itself in the early 2000s with the iPod, Sony built much of its success on the idea of helping people carry music around in their pocket–first with the transistor radio in the 50s and 60s and later with the Walkman portable cassette player. Those products, coupled with smart engineering, made the Sony brand synonymous with peerless quality.

    In the early 2000s, Sony began to lose its competitive edge. Rivals like Samsung had emerged to undercut its higher-priced TVs and stereos. Sony couldn’t get a foothold in new markets like mp3 players. Its earlier expansion into new areas like insurance and its overspending on film and music studios left it with a structure that was at once bloated and siloed.

    Sony named Howard Stringer as CEO in 2005 to turn things around. Stringer cut a charismatic figure, but couldn’t speak Japanese and, as a lifelong media executive, lacked an engineering background. Stringer tried to conjure a convergence of electronics and media properties that never quite gelled. (Stringer is on the board of Time Inc.) Meanwhile, further setbacks struck: the global recession in 2009, the Fukushima earthquake in 2011 and a stronger yen that hurt Japanese exports.

    Sony has posted net losses for six of the past seven years. As a result, the price of its ADRs traded on the NYSE fell from $55 in early 2008 to below $10 in late 2012. (An ADR is a stock that trades in the U.S. but represents a specific number of shares in a foreign corporation.) Its credit ratings eventually fell to near junk levels. But then things began to look up: After bottoming out below $10 in 2012, its ADRs have risen back near $33 this month, a rally of 238% in the last two and a half years.

    The change came after Sony replaced Stringer with Kazuo Hirai in early 2012. Hirai was a Sony veteran known for wringing profits from troubled businesses like the PlayStation gaming division. And like Stringer, Hirai didn’t fit the mold of the Japanese salaryman. Hirai grew up in Japan and North America, giving him a fluency in English and also a gift for being plainspoken, like when he told theWall Street Journal on taking the job, “It’s one issue after another. I feel like, “Holy shit, now what?”

    Hirai began an ambitious restructuring of Sony over the three years that followed. He quickly announced a “One Sony” structure that built on Stringer’s convergence with an emphasis on communication and joint decisions among siloed divisions. He focused the electronics business on mobile, gaming and imaging products. Over time, he cut thousands of jobs, sold off the Vaio PC unit, separated the ailing TV business into its own company and overhauled the smartphone lineup.

    All of this added to financial losses with restructuring charges and made for a tumultuous 2014. But the low point came last November, with the infamous hack that left sensitive documents from Sony Pictures Entertainment in public view. But it was just around this time when some analysts began voicing their conviction in a Sony turnaround. The turnaround painstakingly plotted by Stringer and Hirai was finally bearing fruit.

    That became more evident when Sony reported its most recent earnings. There were encouraging signs in the past year’s finances, like revenue rising 6% and the TV business posting its first profit in 11 years. But the better news was in the cautious forecast for the coming year.

    The bulk of the restructuring was behind Sony, CFO Kenichiro Yoshida said, and while revenue may decline 4% this fiscal year, operating profit would rise fourfold to $2.6 billion, its highest profit since 2008. Hirai had earlier projected net income to rise above $4 billion by 2018, which would be its biggest profit since 1998, before the great fall began.

    There’s still some restructuring to do. The revenue decrease this year will come largely from Sony’s move away from mid-range mobile phones to focus on the high end of the market. While camera sales continue to decline, Sony is seeing strong growth in imaging sensors used in smartphones. Overall, Sony will be a smaller company in terms of revenue but with bigger sales and slow, steady move from aging markets into growing ones.

    A turnaround needs more than cost cutting and restructuring. Sony has a long road ahead to go from playing catch-up in technology markets to playing a leading role in new ones. That step requires a lot more work, but Sony’s return to profitability makes a major turnaround as feasible as it’s been in more than a decade.

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