Calling on experience, vision

Nothing beats experience, so 27 years worth should be pretty unbeatable. Pat Whittingham, president of Sony Business Solutions and Systems Co., joined the manufacturer on March 11, 1975, many video formats ago. Having seen it all should help him keep Sony on track in what have proved to be difficult economic times.

Whittingham was named to his new position when Deputy President Ed Grebow left to head the Metropolitan Television Alliance in Manhattan. Grebow was the highest-ranking American at Sony, and Whittingham will split what were his duties with Sony Electronics President and COO Fujio Nishida, Whittingham tackling the sales and marketing side while Nishida handles corporate responsibilities.

Whittingham will also have oversight of Sony's Corporate and Professional Sales Co. and serve as chairman of the B-to-B committee, which addresses all non-consumer electronics products sold in the U.S. He expects to be busy.

Whittingham's professional career comprises two organizations: Sony and the Canadian Army. A graduate of Canada's Royal Military College, he served six years with the Army before his wife began persuading him that she'd rather not see him take a bullet doing peace-keeping duty.

His first job at Sony was as a government sales manager in Ottawa. He rose to the position of executive vice president for Sony of Canada and also was selected by the federal Minister of Heritage to represent the consumer and professional electronics industry in planning the transition to digital television. He has been a member of SMPTE since 1978.

He describes his management style as collaborative and team-based. "I've been characterized as the kind of guy Japan would choose [for this position] because I'm below the radar," he says. "I'm not the kind of individual who basks in the limelight. I'd much rather give credit to those who have achieved the result. Their success will be my success."

A shyness of the limelight, however, does not mean he doesn't take his challenge seriously. "This past year to a year and a half has had some rather exceptional circumstances for business, but I think we're looking at a recasting of the business model for broadcasting."

To meet that recasting, Whittingham is establishing a new vision for Sony and figuring out how it will impact the company. He expects the first part to become apparent in the next two months.

"We need to reassign resources in a way that will allow us to focus on growth opportunities," he says. "My objective is to improve profitability through more-aggressive revenue-generating capability."

Almost every customer, he adds, whether in corporate or broadcast market, is looking for the way products are going to make operations more efficient and help the bottom line. "To some extent, there's been a significant move away from quality being paramount. The just-good-enough attitude reaches down now into a large section of the overall business. And I think we all have some concern that there is less demand for high-ticket items."

Broadcasters' having to work toward hitting FCC deadlines for DTV transmission undoubtedly has an effect on the budgets available for production gear, he says, but there is an upside as consumers purchase more DTV and HDTV sets.

He believes that quality will return as a sales driver. "The consumer has to embrace a new style of television, and widescreen, both SD and HD, will be an important driver. Over time, my personal belief is, we'll see an increased awareness of quality by the consumer, and that will encourage investment in production and certainly in distribution."

Whittingham questions the move to digital in a station if consumers can't see the improvement. "If DTV to a TV station means they convert their infrastructure and have a work-flow process created by digital technology but the benefit isn't seen by the consumer, what's the driver in the process?"

Nonetheless, IT, servers and digital technology are making inroads. "It's interesting to go into a facility today and see somewhat dated architecture and hardware in the video area and contrast that with the latest server farm that is being set up by IT," he says. "That has a direct effect on traditional suppliers in the business, like Sony."

Centralcasting and the move to servers also affects the demand for VTRs, Whittingham points out. The server market has been dominated by U.S. manufacturers, in part because the computer explosion that occurred in the U.S. did not occur in Japan, leaving Japanese manufacturers behind the curve on product development.

"The solution is a combination of software, hardware and process organization [from different manufacturers] within a station," says Whittingham. "So the system may include a Pinnacle server or a DataDirect server."

Working with other manufacturers may be one of Whittingham's strengths. His previous job was as senior vice president and senior general manager of the Sony System Solutions Division. Based in San Jose, Calif., the division designs and handles project management and integration services for video and data systems to the broadcast, corporate and government markets throughout the Americas. That means working with products from countless manufacturers.

Whittingham cites his company's current AOL Time Warner consulting contract, under which Sony and its traditional competitors entered into non-disclosure agreements so the roadmap for the project would be usable. "We've done a number of projects where there has been virtually no Sony equipment in the solution."

There's little doubt that Whittingham's current goal includes making sure more Sony equipment finds its way into requests from customers of Sony's Systems Division. More trips to Japan, a move to New Jersey from Silicon Valley, and countless meetings will put him on the front lines of change—a place where experience might count more than anything else.