Advertisements

Crunch time for former president and CEO's plan to return as Olympus' saviour

As this news story is being typed up on Thursday evening, UK time, it's the middle of the night in Tokyo and Michael Woodford, the former CEO and President of OIympus, and the whistle-blower who exposed a financial scandal at the company to the tune of nearly $2 billion, is probably slumbering in his Tokyo hotel room bed.

But in a few short hours it's expected that Woodford will be the focus of attention at a press conference in Tokyo where he is likely to fulfil a promise to reveal whether or not his ambition to return to the roles he was unceremoniously and unfairly dismissed from has any future.

Woodford is an understandably difficult position. Much of the Olympus board that one week applauded his achievements as company president during 2011, rewarding him with warm words and a further promotion to CEO, and then a few days later unceremoniously sacked him after he discovered a massive financial scandal that was not of his own doing, remains in power. The same board effectively denied all Woodford's allegations, but was later forced to admit that much, perhaps all, of what Woodford had alleged was true. Key board members have been forced to resign but Woodford and a number of external commentators expected the entire board to go. Instead they have hung on and now hold the balance of power that will determine the future of the company.

Ultimately, it's down to Olympus' shareholders to decide who will be entrusted with the reins. Arguably one reason why most of the old board remain in charge is because there has been little appetite from Japanese investors to interfere. On the other hand, Woodford has the backing of the minority non-Japanese shareholders. Woodford says he wants to keep Olympus in one piece and independent by attracting new investment from existing, as well as new, investors. But the Olympus board is now likely to unveil a plan to sell new shares to Japanese companies that see the situation as a once in a lifetime opportunity to get access to Olympus assets. These companies could include Sony and Fujifilm. It's hard to see how Olympus could survive as a fully independent operator if the company follows this route.

Woodford does have some support in Japan, but it's not likely to be enough. Despite a veteran of 30 years service in Olympus based in Europe, Woodford is hardly known within the ranks of Olympus staff in Japan. With the support of Japanese Olympus staff and investors, Woodford is powerless.

We'll probably know if this is confirmed tomorrow (Friday)