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Michael C. Woodford

March 7, 2012 by staff 

Michael C. Woodford, Michael C. Woodford, MBE (born 12 June 1960(1960-06-12)) is a British businessman who was formerly president and CEO of Olympus Corporation.

He was the first non-Japanese person to be appointed as the company’s CEO. Within two months, he became a central figure in the Olympus scandal, having been removed from his position after serving two weeks, when he questioned sizable fees that Olympus had paid to obscure companies (which appear to have been used to hide old losses). Woodford is one of the most highly placed executives to turn whistleblower.

According to the Olympus website, Woodford, a graduate of Millbank College of Commerce, joined KeyMed, a U.K. medical-equipment unit of Olympus, in 1981.

In 2008 he became executive managing director of Olympus Europa Holding GmbH. Woodford had originally flown to Tokyo to submit his resignation after Olympus purchased Gyrus, a move that would have normally been under Woodford’s direct authority but instead had been arranged directly by Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, the then-chairman, president, and CEO of Olympus. Kikukawa instead made Woodford head of all of Olympus’s Europe operations and gave him a seat on the board of directors.

In February 2011, due to substantial growth in the European businesses, Woodford was promoted to company president, while Kikukawa stayed on as chairman and CEO. It was reported that Woodford clashed with Kikukawa after outside media sources began investigating some of Olympus’s questionable acquisitions, which eventually compelled Kikukawa to give up his title as CEO.

On 30 September 2011 Woodford was appointed chief executive officer of Olympus Corporation, after 30 years of working for the group, while Kikukawa remained as chairman of the board. He was the first non-Japanese person to be appointed as the company’s CEO, making Olympus one of the few Japanese companies to be headed by a foreign businessman (others include Sony, Nissan Motors and Mazda). As the top executive officer in the company, Woodford would have been responsible for selecting his management team.

Upon becoming CEO, Woodford discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars had been transferred from Olympus to advisers and companies located in places such as the Cayman Islands. After attempting to seek answers as to why the questionable transactions took place, he was dismissed from his position as President and CEO on 14 October 2011, although he retained his seat on the board of directors. As a result of Woodford’s ouster, board chairman Kikukawa reassumed the titles of president and CEO but resigned these positions on 26 October 2011 and was succeeded by Shuichi Takayama. 19 top current and former executives, including six present board members (including Takayama who remains in his executive positions) are defendants to a lawsuit.

Fearing for his safety after his dismissal, Woodford immediately left Japan and flew to England. After arrival in London he offered to speak to investigators. He returned to Tokyo on 23 November and later met with investigators and, under police escort, Olympus personnel.

On 30 November 2011, Woodford resigned from the Olympus board but said that he had an “alternative plan” to manage the company by staging a proxy fight. However it has been reported that Woodford was rejected by Olympus’s institutional investors because they were “uncomfortable with the Englishman’s combative style and also his plans to recapitalize the company through private equity or a rights issue”. On 6 January 2012, on failing to secure support from Japanese institutional shareholders, Woodford announced that he would abandon his proxy fight to take control of the Olympus board. Instead, his lawyers had initiated legal proceedings in London seeking unspecified damages for dismissal from his four-year contract. Woodford said that the 12-week public scandal had taken an enormous emotional toll on him and his family: “I’m not superman. I can’t change opinion in Japan in such a profound way. That has to come from within.”

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