Gareth Wigan is stepping back from day-to-day operations of Sony's International Motion Pictures Production Group (IMPPG) and has been named strategic advisor to the studio's international film enterprises.

The 21-year Columbia Pictures veteran will continue to play a significant role in the studio's overseas operations, which will now rest in the sole control of president Deborah Schindler, with whom Wigan had run the division as a team.

Sony Pictures was the first major studio to maintain stand-alone local language production units in Europe, Asia and Latin America. Wigan and Schindler were most recently involved in expanding the studio's ventures in India and Russia. IMPPG is currently active in producing films in China, Spain, France and Mexico. Its latest film, Casi Divas, is scheduled for release in Mexico on Apr 11.

Wigan paid tribute to his colleagues and stressed that he was not retiring but and would 'remain involved in doing what I love, while continuing to add value to the company which has been such a big part of my life.

He continued: 'I am grateful to Michael [Lynton, Sony Pictures CEO and chairman] and Amy [Pascal, co-chairman] and everyone at Sony Pictures for the opportunities I've had for more than 20 years. And I'm pleased that, under Deb Schindler's leadership, the International Motion Picture Production Group will remain in very capable hands.'

Lynton hailed Wigan as a pioneer who had built the studio's international business 'almost single-handedly', while Pascal said he had been involved with some of the studio's 'most outstanding films', from Sense And Sensibility and The Remains Of The Day to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and Kung Fu Hustle.

'I deeply appreciate how supportive Gareth has been to me, especially in being the catalyst for my joining the team last year,' Schindler said. 'He has been a generous and thoughtful colleague, and his contacts and insights have been tremendously helpful and are a testament to his instrumental role in the creation of our international film business.'

In addition to his role with IMPPG, Wigan served as vice chairman of the Columbia TriStar Motion Picture Group since 1997. He joined Columbia as a consultant in 1987 and supervised titles such as Snatch, The Age Of Innocence and Air Force One.

Prior to Columbia, Wigan was a production partner of Paula Weinstein, helped set up Warner Communications subsidiary The Ladd Company, and served as vice president of production at 20th Century Fox, where he supervised Alien, Turning Point, An Unmarried Woman and Breaking Away, among others.