PlayStation Interview: Kaz Hirai

We talk exclusively to the global president of SCEI to get new details on where the PlayStation business is headed and what PS3 owners can look forward to next.

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By Adam Doree

If you had to name one person in the games industry who must be feeling the pressure right now, it would surely be Kaz Hirai. Since our last meeting with Hirai just before the launch of PS3, the Sony veteran has earned SCEI's top job, living and working in Tokyo from the former office of 'Father of PlayStation' Ken Kutaragi. He's now accountable for the entire SCE group.

And for the first time in the company's history, he has some serious catching up to do with some powerful rivals; Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii are both doing extremely well in the market, and Sony is very much aware of this. Yet despite the huge task ahead of Kaz, he seems relaxed and quietly confident in an exclusive sit down with Kikizo last week. Hirai, after all, has been with PlayStation since the mid-nineties, and has been instrumental in the massive success of the company in North America, in much the same way Chris Deering faultlessly engineered the PlayStation entry into Europe.

As the new global boss of the company, Kaz - who is set to keynote at this year's Tokyo Game Show - answered our questions on where things are going next for PlayStation 3, and gave some interesting insight into how Sony Computer Entertainment is going to be run, now that he's in the boss' office at the global HQ.

Note: This interview has a related news article here.


Kikizo: So first of all, how does it feel to now be the global president of Sony Computer Entertainment?

Kaz Hirai: Well, it's a huge challenge, and it means a lot of commitment personally, because my family is still in Foster City in California, and I basically am a single guy in Tokyo, and I make the trip back to see my family once a month. So personally it's a bit of a challenge, and professionally, it's certainly a huge challenge to have responsibility for the whole organisation, and now I realise how much of a challenge Kutaragi-san faced every day. But it's also something that really excites me, and I thrive on challenges, so you know, making sure that we carry on a lot of the good things that Kutaragi-san has left the organisation, and start to grow on that from a business perspective. And also making sure that the relationship between the headquarter office in Japan, and the regional headquarters that we have in Europe, the US, Japan and Asian, work well and effectively, to grow the PlayStation business further.

Kaz Hirai's new full-time place of work in Tokyo<

Kikizo: You also have a strong business background in general, and I believe you have achieved a lot before you joined SCE - how would you say some of your business experience to date benefits this new role that you have?

Hirai: I was at Sony music, that's right. Well, different perspectives, I think I bring to the job, in that I was fortunate enough to be head of SCEA, the American HQ, for about 11 or 12 years I think it was, and so I understand what the regional headquarters [RHQs] go through in terms of implementing strategies that are really specific to that particular market, and now that I'm on the headquarters side, I think I am better able to modulate what kind of decisions need to made on the Tokyo side, and what kind of decisions are best left for the RHQs to make, without Tokyo intervention. Perhaps ultimately I am approving some of these things, but, let's listen to what the RHQs need to say, because they understand their market a lot better than anybody in Tokyo. And they're professionals at what they do. So I want to give the RHQs more autonomy, to come to decisions, make recommendations, act on those recommendations and execute them, perhaps even more so than before. I mean, we used to have a lot of leeway before, but I'd like to perhaps hand over a lot more autonomy to the RHQs. That doesn't mean just handing everything over! So long as I'm able to really track the force on fundamental strategic decisions or direction - how that gets implemented, in each of the regions, needs to be changed because the regions are all different. And that's really dependent on what the RHQs want to accomplish and how they're going to implement that strategy.

Kikizo: Can we talk about Ken Kutaragi. I was on a show recently that wanted my opinion on the stance which some might take that Ken was 'pushed'; with the Japanese culture of business, by changing their job title and relieving responsibility and so on, it's arguably a way to politely ask somebody to leave. What would you say to that?

Hirai: Well, anybody that has spent time with Kutaragi-san, and I don't know if you've spent time with him...?

Kikizo: Briefly, yes...

Hirai: You know that he's a man full of ideas, and that resulted in what we know today as the PlayStation business. And that benefits not just us and Sony, but all the publishers, the retailers, and ultimately consumers - so he built an empire. And that was really one of the great ideas that he had. And, you know, he is still full of a lot of different ideas, some of which we just can't do in a Sony Computer Entertainment environment. I think he just wanted to branch out and really try on some of these new ideas, because he once told me - not too long ago - he said, "I'm not getting any younger, but I have so many things I want to do, and I'm going to get out there and try these ideas" - and all credit to him. And he's still our Honorary Chairman, and I still look to him for advice once in a while, and he's certainly willing to say, you know what, this is what you need to be doing, this is how you should look at a certain issue. So he's obviously not fully engaged, but if I ask him to, he will engage, but in the meantime, he's working on some of his dreams, and I am very excited to see that he's been giving that a lot of thought and now decided to move on; I'm keeping a close eye on him because he has some great ideas which I know are going to be the next big thing.

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INTERVIEW AUDIO
Kaz Hirai Interview
Kaz Hirai Interview (July 2007 - audio only)
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Kaz Hirai Interview
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