MCV LEGENDS – Jack Tretton

Remember how anxious we all were about the launch of PS3 – and that delay? Seems like an eon ago, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if it didn’t happen – a laughable bump in a trajectory of predictable success for Sony’s next-gen machine.

For Sony Computer of America president Jack Tretton, however, it can still seem like yesterday. For Tretton, without a doubt, the launch of the third PlayStation – indeed, his third PlayStation launch – rates as one of the trickiest moment of his career.

Ironically, my biggest challenge has been being the president and CEO of SCEA,” he says. I took over as CEO a few short weeks after the North America launch of PS3. I think anybody that follows the industry remembers the struggles we faced at market during the holiday timeframe.

There was a tremendous amount of fanfare around the launch. We had 200,000 units to spread across the market and there was an immediate feeding frenzy. There was also a lot of concern about the technology promise of the PS3 as well as the price point. Consumers questioned whether Sony would be able to deliver on that promise. The first year was certainly baptism under fire.”

But Tretton was never one to step away from a fight. He gained his marketing degree at Providence College, focussing on gaining a foothold in product marketing or advertising. His first big break came with battery firm Duracell in 1983, where he quickly thrived as territory manager.

After just three years, his skills were noticed by Activision, who hired him as VP of sales in the US – and Tretton’s burgeoning career in games had begun. It’s little wonder Activision poached Tretton; it seems his attitude was always destined for the top.

In every stage of my career I always tried to think about what I would do if I were running the company, and to make monetary decisions as if it were my own money,” he explains.

I think that practice has served me well and I now apply that practice in my position as president and CEO of SCEA.

The most notable stepping stone on Tretton’s ascent to ‘Sony bigwig’ status was his appointment as general manager of music manufacturer JVC’s game division in 1991 – a forward step taken after five years as sales boss at Activision.

He spent four years in the firm’s publishing division, again displaying enviable success – not least picking up Sega’s then-coveted CD Game of the Year Award two years in a row.

But New England-born Tretton’s destiny was calling – and Sony was knocking on his door. He joined SCEA at its inception in March 1995, quickly becoming a core component of the team that launched the original PlayStation to huge fanfare – and never-seen-before mainstream success. With PSOne’s triumph still fresh in his gills, Tretton soon realised he was hooked.

I love this industry,” he comments. I think you always do better if you are doing something you enjoy. I enjoy the entrepreneurial nature of it and I saw that there was limitless opportunity in a business that I found very interesting. When I entered this business we were still a small industry, recovering from the Atari collapse and focused on entertainment PC software. Now we have grown to be worth $18 billion.”

The small matter of launching the most successful home console in history, PS2, followed, and Tretton was primed to be put in Sony’s driving seat. He became president of SCEA in 2006 – and, as PS3’s launch beckoned, there was nowhere for the buck to be passed.

I definitely think becoming president and CEO of Sony Computer Entertainment America is my greatest ever achievement,” he says. Sony is an industry leader and a company that has been phenomenally successful for an extended period. To hold the senior position, in such an important market, is something that I’m very proud of.

Previously, I managed just a portion of the business. Now, I’m responsible for all of it, so I feel a tremendous amount of responsibility for virtually everything that the company does – as opposed to focusing on one segment of the business.”

Tretton’s connection to PlayStation has even stretched to his personal activities. He takes particular pride in working closely with the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in Palo Alto, California – which is affiliated with the Stanford University School of Medicine.

Tretton works with the hospital’s administration to make sure the children have plenty of PlayStations and games. He also volunteers his services in his local community and church.

But after managing the release of three generations of PlayStation in the world’s biggest territory, does he have anything left to achieve?

I would like to show long-term growth and success at the most senior levels,” Tretton reveals. The majority of my time is has been spent managing the business in America. I want to get immersed in worldwide leadership.”

Jack Tretton used to dream of running the company he worked for. Just because he’s now achieved that, don’t expect his trademark ambition to go anywhere just yet.

TRETTON: My biggest inspiration

I don’t know that there was one individual. When I first came into the business in 1986, there were guys that had been around since the early days of the Atari 2600 and the birth of the industry. They were ten years older than me and were consummate professionals. I learned a lot from them strategically and professionally and they taught me that you could have a social relationship as well as a professional relationship with your colleagues.

In the early days, it was people like Jim Bull (Mattel, Activision), Lou Jannetty (Activision) and Larry Probst (Activision, EA) and in the most recent decade people like Bobby Kotick (Activision) and Kaz Hirai are certainly inspirations. Kaz understands the inner working of Sony better than anyone I’ve ever been associated with and he has always been a great supporter of mine.”

JACK TRETTON: A  career history

After graduation, Jack Tretton became a territory manager for the Duracell battery company from 1983 through 1985. He served as vice president of sales at Activision from 1986 to 1991, and as general manager of JVC Musical Industries’ game division from 1991 to 1995.

After joining the Sony Corporation in March 1995, Tretton became a key member of the team that founded PlayStation in September of that year. He was integral in the development and publishing of the PlayStation, PlayStation 2, and PlayStation 3 game consoles – as well as the PlayStation Portable, and their related products.

In November 2006, Tretton was promoted to president and chief executive officer for Sony Computer Entertainment America.

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