Bernie Stolar Gone

Bernie Stolar Gone

by August 12, 1999

How could this happen? Just weeks before the DC launch, Bernard Stolar is no longer working with SOA. Here’s an official statement from Sega.

Sega® of America, Inc. announced this afternoon that Toshiro Kezuka has been named vice-chairman and chief operating officer of the company, effective immediately. Kezuka succeeds Bernard Stolar. Effective August 11, 1999, Bernard Stolar is no longer with Sega of America.

Kezuka will be supported by the executive management team of Sega of America which includes Peter Moore, SVP of marketing, Chris Gilbert, SVP of sales, Greg Thomas, VP of product development and Neal Robison, director of third party development. These key executives have been working together to ensure the success of the highly-anticipated Sega Dreamcast videogame console, which will be available at more than 15,000 retail outlets on September 9, 1999.

It continues…

Kezuka joined Sega of America in 1999 as deputy chairman. Prior to this, he served as a board member and head of domestic sales and distribution for Sega Enterprises, Ltd, since 1995. Previously, Kezuka was president at Honda France. He brings more than 20 years of consumer sales and marketing experience to Sega of America.

Continuing coverage from Next Generation:

Earlier today at Sega’s offices at the Fashion Center in downtown San Francisco, Sega’s managers were given the news: Bernie Stolar would no longer be the head of Sega of America. They went about spreading the news to their employees who, in turn, told acquaintances in the industry. By the end of the day word was everywhere, fact inseparable from rumor…Sega’s invocation of its policy not to comment on personnel decisions, a policy it did not uphold during the departures of other executives who left for personal reasons, is one of many clear indications that Mr. Stolar was most likely ousted by Sega’s top brass in Japan. While there is no official word, industry analysts speculate that one too many “differences of opinion” between Stolar and the heads of Sega Enterprises in Japan lead to a decision by Sega to remove its American COO from office.

Ironically, Stolar was “fired,” as he described it in an interview with MSNBC last year, from his position as executive vice president of Sony Computer Entertainment America a month before the launch of the Sony PlayStation.

For its part, Sega will only say that Mr. Stolar “no longer works with the company.” Sega is quite insistent, however, that Mr. Stolar’s departure will not materially affect the Dreamcast launch, nor is it a sign that Sega of Japan is upset about the job Sega of America has done preparing for launch.

This is the third senior manager to part company with Sega since this Spring, with VP of Product Development Eric Hammond and VP of Third Party Licensing Gretchen Eichinger having left last April. With many speculating that Stolar was dismissed, this latest quake at Sega’s top doesn’t seem to spell internal confidence, either in the U.S. or Japan, in Dreamcast’s chances here.

Not so, say Sega of America’s spokespeople, insisting that Sega is as confident as ever — particularly in its remaining management. Above and beyond new COO Kezuka, Sega has Peter Moore, SVP of marketing, Chris Gilbert, SVP of sales, Greg Thomas, VP of product development and Neal Robison, director of third party development. “These key executives have been working together to ensure the success of the highly-anticipated Sega Dreamcast videogame console,” the company said in a release, “which will be available at more than 15,000 retail outlets on September 9, 1999.”

Kezuka, a virtual unknown in the American games industry, has been in the U.S. since this April and has been with Sega since 1995 where he served as a board member and head of domestic sales and distribution for Sega Enterprises, Ltd. Previously, Kezuka was president at Honda France. “He will work as a superb interface with our Japanese parent company,” a Sega spokesman told us, explaining that global integration of business is one of Sega’s key orders of business.

“Sega is 100% on track for the biggest launch the videogame industry has ever seen with Sega Dreamcast. All the retailers have their allocations, all the third party publishers are on board and our $100 million marketing campaign is in full swing,” Charles Bellfield, director of marketing communications, Sega of America offered. “We have the best team on board to make sure Sega Dreamcast is a complete success at launch and beyond. Mr. Stolar’s departure will not affect that.”

Mr. Stolar could not be reached at press time for comment.

What in the free world could have caused something like this to happen? Perhaps this:

Sony Computer Entertainment of America held an executive golf tournament on Monday at The Course at Wente Vineyards in Livermore, California. This event was thrown by key Sony executives including Phil Harrison, vice president of third party relations and research and development for SCEA. In attendance were several Sony third party developers and select members of the media. Also in attendance – albeit uninvited – was Sega of America.

Sega crashed Sony’s party by having the golf course rigged with several golf balls sporting the Dreamcast logo. In addition, Sega had someone dressed up as Sonic the Hedgehog (the company’s mascot) to parade around the course and parking lot. And if that didn’t distract Sony and its third party developers enough, perhaps the plane flying around all afternoon displaying a “Sega Dreamcast 9-9-99” banner did.

Yesterday, this was the most hilarious thing the Sonic and Sega community has ever heard of. Now, it may very well have been a contributing factor to Stolar’s departure.

The Sonic Scene will have complete and continuing coverage of this very big reality check as I get it.