Michael Woodford worked his way up through the ranks of Olympus to become the first non-Japanese head of the 92 year-old company. However, he was dismissed after just four months in the position when he uncovered explosive financial irregularities. The story is set to reverberate around the world – just as four UK newspapers have named Michael their Business Person of the Year. According to the Editor of the Financial Times, he “captures the spirit of boldness.”
Leaving school at 16 Michael started out as a management trainee at Lucas Aerospace and put himself through Millbank College of Commerce. Then after a spell at Cadbury Schweppes, he joined the sales force at KeyMed, the UK medical equipment division of Olympus. He made his way up the ladder over the next three decades, running their American and Russian businesses before becoming Executive MD of Olympus Europe. Two years later he was one of only five foreign nationals ever to take the helm of a global Japanese corporation.
Just after taking up his appointment as President and CEO, Michael Woodford discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars had been transferred to mysterious accounts, many in the Cayman Islands tax haven. When he brought it to the attention of his Chairman and board, and informed a contact at the Financial Times, he was instantly sacked. Told that he should fear for his safety, he returned to London and briefed the Serious Fraud Office, setting in train a series of investigations which would involve the SFO, the FBI and the Toyko Police. The scale of fraud is estimated to be $1.7billion, over twenty years. Keen to right the wrongs, Michael also offered to return to Olympus, but was rejected by shareholders.
The Olympus tale takes in the Yakuza crime syndicate and Japanese concepts of loyalty and reputation. More importantly for Western business audiences, it gets to the heart of what is and what isn’t ethical capitalism. In a typically frank and entertaining way, Michael Woodford tells the story in a keynote or after dinner speech – exploring lessons of corporate morality and risk management against a truly dramatic, and still unfolding backdrop.
‘Terminated’ – published in April 2012 by Hayakawa, Tokyo
‘Exposure’ – to be published in November 2012 by Penguin, New York & London
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