Former boss’s exposure of Olympus a thriller

Michael Woodford had a lot to say in Dublin yesterday about Japanese attitudes to loyalty

Michael Woodford, former chief executive of Olympus: didn’t want to be sitting in rooms again “doing bullshit bingo”. Photograph:  Iain White Photography

Michael Woodford, former chief executive of Olympus: didn’t want to be sitting in rooms again “doing bullshit bingo”. Photograph: Iain White Photography

 

Corporate whistleblower Michael Woodford, who addressed a session of the European Insurance Forum 2014 in a Dublin hotel yesterday, tells his story well. At the end of his hour, when was asked if he should speak a little longer, those listening made it clear that he should.

His tale of shady corporate transactions within the Olympus group, possibly involving the Japanese mafia, had all the ingredients of a Hollywood thriller.

Having started out with the group as a salesman 30 years earlier, his appointment in April 2011 as president of the corporation made him one of only four “gaijins” to run a large Japanese company, and the very first western “salaryman” to rise to the top.

He had a lot to say yesterday, much of it negative, about Japanese attitudes towards loyalty and the view that, right or wrong, you stick by your employer.

His appointment to the top role was decided by the previous incumbent, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa (inset), who became chairman. On the day Woodford sought a showdown with Kikukawa, they were in the boardroom, where Kikukawa had a plate of sushi set in front of him, while a “manky” tuna sandwich was waiting for Woodford.

Japanese politeness is part of a culture where the local media all but never write anything negative about their top corporations, according to Woodford.

But if his experience has coloured his views on Japan, it has also coloured his views on corporations generally. Asked by a member of the audience if he would be able to trust people if he worked in a major corporation again, Woodford’s blunt answer was: “No.”

He didn’t want to be sitting in rooms again “doing bullshit bingo”, he said.

In his book, Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal, Woodford said the relationship that can build up between an auditor and its client works against the disclosure of malpractice. He supports compulsory auditor rotation.

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