A Vietnam veteran - but could he take on BBC?: Stringer has a ruthless reputation and a record of accepting tough challenges
(Guardian (UK) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Sir Howard Stringer hired David Letterman for US network CBS and was the first non-Japanese national to run electronics group Sony. Now the Welsh-born Stringer, one of Britain's most successful overseas businessmen, is being touted as a potential head of the BBC.
He emerged as the frontrunner to succeed Lord Patten as chairman of the BBC Trust after the former Hong Kong governor announced on Tuesday he was stepping down a year earlier than expected after undergoing major heart surgery.
Stringer, a Vietnam war veteran who was knighted in 1999, is already inside the corporation, if only for a few months, after he was appointed as one of its non-executive directors to toughen up the BBC's governance following a string of scandals, from the Jimmy Savile abuse to multimillion-pound executive payoffs.
It is not the first time he has been linked with a top BBC job, having been approached to be its chairman in 2010 and its director general in 1999 when he - along with the current man filling the role, Tony Hall - lost out to Greg Dyke.
Now aged 72, Stringer was asked during one interview for the director general role in 1999 if he was a little too old for the job. "I'm only six weeks older than I was when you asked me to apply," Stringer replied.
If he is known for his straight talking, then he also has a reputation for ruthlessness, cutting costs and slashing 20,000 jobs early in his tenure as the first foreign chief executive of Sony. He could not stop the firm plunging into the red, reeling from attacks by computer hackers, the tsunami of 2011 and PlayStation delays, complaining the company had been hit by "everything but toads and pestilence".
A former colleague said: "He survived and thrived as the first westerner to run Sony, which is no mean feat, and if he can handle that he can handle the BBC.
"He is as comfortable with the floor workers as he is with politicians, he started out as a journalist, something that should hold him in good stead with the BBC. He is a team player and a good communicator."
Before joining Sony in 1997, Stringer was president of CBS, where he persuaded Letterman to join the broadcaster from rival network NBC and produced Dan Rather's programme on CBS News. "Sure, I'd like to run a TV network the way it was in the 1970s," he once said. "You had a problem with revenues, you just jacked up the ad rates and went out for a martini."
"He is very well versed in the TV industry," says a source. "The only hesitation is the fact he has been based in the US for a long time and how familiar is he with the British TV landscape."
He began at Sony as president of its US operation and went on to become chairman and chief executive in June 2005, overseeing the entire business, including Sony's media, film studio, music and electronics subsidiaries. He stood down in 2012.
Once described as a lifelong liberal, Stringer has made donations to Labour in the past and received his knighthood during Tony Blair's first term in office.
If that suggests he is unlikely to appeal to the coalition government, which will make the appointment, it should be noted that Stringer also served on a business panel advising David Cameron on economic policy. Stringer's Oxfordshire home is about 30 miles from that of the prime minister.
Born in Cardiff - his father a sergeant in the RAF, his mother a Welsh schoolteacher - the family moved to Aylesbury when he was a small boy and he won a scholarship to Oundle school before studying modern history at Oxford.
He has been a director at TalkTalk, which partnered the BBC in the on-demand TV service YouView, since 2012.
One factor determining whether he takes the role may be the enthusiasm with which he will regard a four-day a week role paying pounds 110,000 a year, which Patten described as "10 times harder" than he expected. Another source said Stringer had recently rebuffed approaches for another full-time role.
But he has never been one to shirk a challenge, choosing to serve in Vietnam so he could stay in the US after moving to New York in the 1960s. "I think I'm a bit prone to new adventures," Stringer once said. "The same damned impulse that got me in trouble by sending me to America in the first place compels me to take challenges when offered them."
(c) 2014 Guardian Newspapers Limited.
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