Can Sony Mobile make a comeback?

Sony Mobile is undergoing turmoil.

The company has just replaced the president Kunimasa Suzuki with Hiroki Totoki. Mr. Totoki pledges to “push forward structural reform in favor of concentration and selection”, referring to the narrowed product lineup and standardization of parts in order to boost per-unit profitability.

The company has been through a difficult time, with its annual production plan revised down from 50 million to 43 million units. The industry sees the management reshuffle somewhat inevitable.

Its flagship model, Xperia Z, has been managing to expand its share under different carriers, such as Softbank in Japan and Verizon in the US, which is up to par with the expectations.

The major obstacle, however, seems to be the sluggish sales of middle-class devices in China.

Judging from his financial background, the new management under President Totoki may inevitably continue the drastic downsizing.

Another focus of attention surrounding Sony Mobile is the surprise transfer of Kichiro Kurozumi, who has supervised the product development in the company, to Softbank.

Kichiro Koizumi at MWC 2014

Kichiro Kurozumi at MWC 2014

Whenever there was a major international trade shows, such as CES, MWC, IFA, etc., Mr. Kurozumi was almost always there to present the new Xperia to the media. He was famous among journalists and featured in various interviews. Even outside the circle of industry, he was widely known as “Mr. Xperia”.

At IFA held early September this year, I was wondering about his unusual absence at the media roundtable for Xperia Z3. In the following week, the question was answered by news of his “possible transfer to Softbank”.

In October, there was a Sony event featuring Xperia Z3, where I was greeted by Mr. Kurozumi with his new Softbank name card.

There, he told me how he gained the favor of Mr. Son, the Softbank president, while visiting Softbank to market Xperia Z3 and eventually was offered a post at the company.

Mr. Kurozumi seems to be currently based in Tokyo, but his new boss should consider sending him to Silicon Valley as soon as possible, for he was the person who bridged two different corporate cultures of Sony and Ericsson and integrated the product development activities of the two companies.

As Sprint continues to struggle in the US market, what Softbank needs the most is competitiveness in the area of product development. Mr. Kurozumi’s experience in integrating different cultures and operations should be a very useful asset. Mr. Son must have foreseen the potential role this illustrious person can take when he headhunted him.

The impact of Mr. Kurozumi’s absence, however, bodes ill for Sony’s development regime.

I personally felt uneasy about the company’s future with the loss of fundamental asset like Mr. Kurozumi. According to him, however, he felt “it was about the time to give the post away to younger ones, if I may say so. I have confidence in their ability to create new Xperia.”

A new regime under the new president and departure of Mr. Kurozumi may internally imply more opportunities for younger generations.

If President Totoki properly takes advantage of the younger talents, the company may yet produce a new Xperia with completely different concepts. This would be the “last hope” for Sony Mobile’s resurgence.