This week’s Grounded Leader, Kazuo Hirai, CEO of Sony Corporation, has been at the center of one of the most vicious and malicious cyber attacks of all time. When the company was hacked in late 2014, things looked pretty bleak for the global entertainment giant. By all appearances, the hack was done in retaliation against Sony Picture’s scheduled release of The Interview, starring James Franco and Seth Rogen.
In the movie, the two protagonists are drawn into a plot to assassinate North Korean Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un. In the face of terrorist threats, Sony withdrew the film from distribution. Based on encouragement from business and political leaders, the company ultimately changed its mind and staged a remarkable turnabout, releasing the film through a variety of channels.
Furthermore, Hirai invoked the right of free expression in describing the change in direction: “I have to say that freedom of speech, freedom of expression, freedom of association — those are very important lifeblood-lifelines of Sony and our entertainment business.” Hirai also expressed pride for his staff and business partners for standing up to “extortionist efforts of criminals” and making the film available to the public.
As a way to focus his company and the business world on the future, Hirai took the opportunity to plug an entirely different type of film at the 2015 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas: “Before we get into the actual presentation… I think I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Sony Pictures and a… a great comedy movie. How many of you went to see a great Sony Pictures movie this holiday season? That’s right, Annie is a great movie.” That delighted the crowd.
Kazuo Hirai is our Grounded Leader of the Week for tackling his company’s monumental cyber attack head-on, while expressing gratitude and deftly using humor to engage his audiences.
CES Presentation – Kazuo Hirai