Past Glories and a Promising Future: Carl Rose’s last interview as managing director of Sony ANZ

Back on 14 June 2013, this website exclusively revealed that Sony Australia and New Zealand managing director Carl Rose was stepping down from his post.

At the time, we were only able to publish a prepared statement from the iconic Japanese company, in which Rose said he was making the decision having achieved many things at the company:

“I’ve had an amazing time with Sony and am proud to leave the company in robust health and on the cusp of its next stage of growth with the rise of 4K Ultra HD as the new standard for TV capture and viewing,” Rose said.

The statement ended with ominous words from Sony ANZ:

“We will not be offering any further comment at this time.”

Five months later, we can now present the final interview Carl Rose conducted as managing director of Sony Australia and New Zealand and as a 26-year employee of this most famous electronics brand:

Looking Through Rose-Coloured Glasses

An Australian resident with UK and New Zealand passports, and having held senior executive roles within Sony in all three markets, Rose has a unique perspective on the brand and how it has been positioned over the past three decades.

His passion for sport is well known and the analogies immediately become free-flowing when comparing leadership on the field and succeeding in business.

Raised in Devon in the south of England, Carl Rose was a talented inside centre, playing rugby union to such a high level that he trained just one level below England Schoolboys.

Despite a career-ending knee injury and a few regrets that he never wore the white rugby jersey with an English Rose emblazoned on the breast, Carl Rose instead captained several Sony teams and passionately wore this brand on his sleeve and his heart for 27 years.

Like a lot of managing directors, the disciplines and lessons learned on the sporting field have translated to the tenacity and resilience required for his career at Sony.

In November 1986, Rose worked as an assistant product manager for audio at Sony UK. As luck would have it, he was sitting across the hallway from the person who will succeed him as Sony managing director in Australia and New Zealand, Yasuhide (Joe) Yokota, who was the then product manager for Trinitron TV.

During the late 1980s, Rose enjoyed the rise and rise of the Walkman and then the Discman.

After visiting his parents during the Commonwealth Games in Auckland in 1990, Rose at the age of 28 made the decision to leave Sony UK and become the brand’s divisional manager in New Zealand, managing the responsibilities for sales and marketing within the consumer electronics business.

After six years in New Zealand, Rose joined Sony Australia and a year later began working under the memorable leadership of Harry Machida.

Rose remembers that in the 1990s “the conversation was all about how much you would grow, which is very different to the present”.

The big buying meetings at the time were not The Good Guys or JB Hi-Fi — it was Retravision — and these were the years before Apple, Samsung and LG; there were no flat panels in sight.

There were longer lifecycles, products were released several months after they were launched or previewed overseas, and the business was far less data driven — a lot of the business was relationship based — retailers and suppliers still did business over a round of golf.

“It was collaborative, rather than argumentative — it was a different time,” reflects Rose. “But not all of the changes are necessarily bad. Having more data-driven conversations is probably a good idea.”

Rose returned to the UK as marketing director between 2003 and 2006, before returning to Australia and taking the role of managing director in 2007.

In terms of highlights, Rose remains proud of the Vaio business, which the company entered in the early 2000s using an innovative instant replenishment model.

Another highlight was the success of the first Full HD Bravia televisions launched in 2008, just in time for the Summer Olympics in Beijing, and heavily promoted throughout the AFL season as Channel 10 sought to promote itself as an HD broadcaster.

This was Sony at the peak of its powers and it was the best of times for the brand: high average sales prices and unprecedented volumes as pre-GFC Australia committed itself to new televisions resulting in months of back orders.

But since then there have been more challenges than victories and Rose admits that there have been tough times at the helm. Rapid price deflation and a reduction in unit sales have dramatically changed the business for consumer electronics suppliers.

“It is hard to get people’s attention about falling average sales prices when volumes are going through the roof,” he said.

“This leads to people not promoting the value of the products as the deal is perceived to be amazing. It might feel good, but it is incredibly dangerous.

“Flat panel TV was like a drug and it was hard to get off it as some thought that never-ending price decreases were going to drive never-ending volume increases.”

These days, Rose describes the AV and IT space as “fairly brutal” and uses the laptop market as an example of a space that is facing its redefinition.

He was in a retailer recently facing two benches of laptops displaying 72 SKUs, essentially all performing a similar task.

“The signs are there for the laptop market. You can’t compare laptops to tablets as you are not going to make the money.

“The answer is that you will inevitably have to find a new category. Between phone, IT and AV, this represents 75 per cent of the business.

“If you can get this right, that is where the action is.”

One of the aspects of the industry Rose feels has been lost over the last decade is a sense of entrepreneurial spirit.

“One thing we might have lost in the industry is the concept of having a crack and getting behind a product or category.

“Data can’t tell you whether something will be successful — it can tell you what has been successful and it can help you replicate something that has already happened.

“Everyone tends to play a bit safer now, sometimes you have to have the confidence to have a crack and, truth be told, it is up to the suppliers to lead that and promote a new product or segment.”

At 51 years old, the next stage in Rose’s career remains unknown, but retirement is not on the cards. While the non-compete clause remains active, he is likely to perform some consulting and is interested in the growth of whitegoods and major appliance retailing.

“I might get involved in something smaller than I have been used to and I would like to be involved in a brand that has growth potential. I am also keen to work on a business with some perceived inefficiencies and unlock hidden value.”

He freely admits that over the years his interest in building brand and building teams has resulted in a disproportionate amount of time being devoted to these two key areas of the business.

To combine his two passions in one final analogy, Rose was asked to compare Sony to a football team.

“Sony is like Liverpool. They have both had a lot of past glories and probably had their best decade a while ago.

“They both have great new managers and Kaz Hirai at Sony now has about half a dozen new players (or products) to lead his team, with Xperia Tablet Z, 4KTV, RX1 and RX100 digital cameras and Vaio Pro, and a few off the bench to come such as PlayStation 4.

“Like Liverpool, we have a long history of class, but we have come off the pace a bit.

“We have been overtaken by a couple of teams like Man City and Chelsea. But everyone knows that Sony will always sign good players and produce good products, but perhaps we just haven’t had the consistency.”

Rose reflects on…

The Future of Retailing

Too often the commentary is about online or bricks and mortar retailing: it is just retailing. There has never been just one model of retailing, and online is not just one channel, there are different business models. You have to be online, and how you choose to be there is up to you.

Overseas Retail Competitors

The threat to the biggest retailers in our market are not probably going to come from our market. It is probably going to be external like an Amazon and if Amazon were to come to Australia – they can compete in every category.

Retailer/Supplier Relationships

The quality of the conversation between retailers and suppliers has changed. Both sides are listening more and it is no longer a battle. We ask where we are missing out and where we can do better. It is probably going to be a smaller group of retailers and suppliers having this conversation.

Volume vs Value Retailing

From a brand perspective, you are either a big volume cost-efficient partner or a specialist that adds so much value that suppliers want to partner with you. Sony does business with Tier 1 and specialists and that reflects how the market is going to go. You are either a volume mass player or you have defined value. If you are a medium sized company — that is not a good place to be — you need to be north or south: the equator is not a place you want to live.

Email

I won’t miss people who send me an email when they could come and talk to me or call me up and have a conversation.

Arrogance of Sony

It is hard not to become arrogant when you are uber successful. But it is not our brand that people associate with being arrogant any more. You have to believe in the circle which follows success: arrogance, failure and humility.

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