Monday, October 27, 2014

Michael Woodford on Japan

This week there are a series of presentations in Tokyo by Michael Woodford, former CEO of Olympus and unfortunately I can't make it to any of them. Not happy. It was three years ago that Mr Woodford was appointed to the post of President and CEO after thirty plus years at the company but within a few weeks was out of a job and out of the country. His crime was to expose corporate fraud on an unimaginable scale perpetrated over two decades by his predecessors, a number of whom remained close to the company.

The story had started to circulate in the weeks before the exposure. Consulting fees of hundreds of millions of dollars had been paid to seemingly unknown offshore companies in relation to the acquisition of a number of businesses, the largest of which was based in the UK. The fees themselves were then said to be re-circulated back to covertly cover losses dating back to the 1990's. Exposure led to the closing of ranks in a moment that cannot be described as the finest in Japanese corporate history but in the long term potentially it could lead to very much needed reform.

For me though the flagship moment came when the new president held a press conference to apologise for the resulting loss in the Olympus share value. Explaining the events with a straight face he, rather grumpily, remarked "if only Woodford hadn't disclosed the affair there would have been no impact to shareholder value". Which in layman's terms is pretty close to saying "if they hadn't found the body…."

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