TOKYO — Sony once was a company famous for firsts. The world’s first short-wave transistor radio. The first portable television. The first stereo cassette player.
But those firsts are museum pieces now, sealed into glass display boxes and stored in a Tokyo archives room, available to visitors by appointment only.
Sony is still a manufacturing giant, but a troubled one, and its recent struggles to cut costs and match more nimble international competitors typify a lumbering Japanese electronics industry that is famous far more for its past products than its current ones.
Experts say that Sony now needs a transformation. That’s the chief challenge facing incoming CEO Kazuo Hirai, who takes over from Howard Stringer on April 1 and is charged with reviving a company that has lost money four years in a row.
Such a turnaround will require many steps — paring of product lines; outsourcing; jobs cuts — that Japan’s major manufacturers often say they cannot take, due to cultural expectations for lifetime employment. It also requires recapturing the gift for innovation, something that came easier for Sony when it was young and streamlined, not sprawling. Sony, whose Walkman became a cultural icon in the 1980s, hasn’t developed a touchstone product in years.