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Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower

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“It was no comfort to know that I was making history, for the forced removal of a company president is almost unheard of in Japan. I rose quietly, left the room, and holding my head high, walked back to my office. My main goal was to escape as quickly as pos­sible. The board had seemed scared—why else would they have acted the way they did. But just what were they scared of?”
 
When Michael Woodford was made president of Olympus—the ...

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Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower

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Overview

“It was no comfort to know that I was making history, for the forced removal of a company president is almost unheard of in Japan. I rose quietly, left the room, and holding my head high, walked back to my office. My main goal was to escape as quickly as pos­sible. The board had seemed scared—why else would they have acted the way they did. But just what were they scared of?”
 
When Michael Woodford was made president of Olympus—the company to which he had dedi­cated thirty years of his career—he became the first Westerner ever to climb the ranks of one of Japan’s corporate giants. Some wondered at the appointment—how could a gaijin who didn’t even speak Japanese understand how to run a Japanese company? But within months Wood­ford had gained the confidence of most of his colleagues and shareholders. Unfortunately, soon after, his dream job turned into a nightmare.
 
The trouble began when Woodford learned about a series of bizarre mergers and aquisi­tions deals totaling $1.7 billion—a scandal that threatened to bring down the entire company if exposed. He turned to his fellow executives— including the chairman who had promoted him Tsuyoshi Kikukawa—for answers. But instead of being heralded as a hero for trying to save the company, Woodford was met with vague responses and hostility—a clear sign of a cover up. Undeterred, he demanded to be made CEO so he could have more leverage with his board and continue to search for the truth. Then, just weeks after being granted the top title, he was fired in a boardroom coup that shocked Japan and the business world at large. Worried his for­mer bosses might try to silence him, Woodford immediately fled the country in fear of his life and went straight to the press—making him the first CEO of a global multinational to blow the whistle on his own company.
 
Following his dismissal, Woodford faced months of agonizing pressure that at times threatened his health and his family life. But instead of suc­cumbing he persisted, and eventually the men who had ousted him were held to account. Now, Woodford recounts his almost unbelievable true story—from the e-mail that first alerted him to the scandal, to the terrifying rumors of involve­ment with the Japanese mafia, to the stream of fruitless denials that continued to emanate from Olympus in an effort to cover up the scandal. He also paints a devastating portrait of corporate Japan—an insular, hierarchy-driven culture that prefers maintaining the status quo to exposing ugly truths.
 
The result is a deeply personal memoir that reads like a thriller narrative. As Woodford puts it, “I thought I was going to run a health-care and consumer electronics company, but found I had walked into a John Grisham novel.”

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Woodford's first-person narration sweeps the reader along as he's brought in as CEO of Olympus, a prominent Japanese company, just as suspicious company activities are becoming public knowledge. When top company officials resist his efforts to uncover the truth, and ultimately dismiss him in an almost unprecedented move, Woodford goes public. He emphasizes cultural differences, corporate and social, as a causative factor in his own situation. Yet Japanese business is not the Japanese people, for whom his admiration is manifest. Individual encounters highlight the contrast between the ordinary "salaryman" and the corporate hierarchy at Olympus. He suggests the initiative of Japanese muckraking magazine Facta and the hostile reaction at an outgoing board of directors meeting are signs that new business practices may someday change Japan. Woodford effectively interweaves individual and cultural themes. If his depiction of events sometimes includes the trite, self-important, and exaggerated, his insights into Japanese culture, international business practices, and the importance of personal integrity make this a memorable read.
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Kirkus Reviews
How one man faced down some of Japan's top corporate leadership and exposed massive fraud and corruption. The announcement that Woodford would become the next president of Olympus was headline news. He was one of only a few Westerners to penetrate the heights of the Japanese corporate structure. He had worked his way up the ranks, beginning as a salesman 30 years earlier in what was then a British-owned medical-supply company. In this page turner, he gives a personal account of the enormous gap between his expectations in taking on the job and the stressful, sometimes frightening reality. In March 2011, shortly after he assumed his new position, a small Japanese financial journal published an article detailing how Olympus had acquired three corporations that carried suspicious losses in the range of $1.7 billion. The article suggested money laundering and suspicious criminal connections. As corporate president, the author bore fiduciary responsibility. He immediately asked for clarification about the acquisitions but was met with evasiveness from the former president and his cronies. In response, he returned to the U.K. and hired British auditors to review the suspicious transactions, which had been handled through British banks. Just six months after he had assumed his new position, the Olympus board of directors fired Woodford. After the story became headline news in Western media, the Japanese also conducted an investigation, and the corporate officers involved were charged with fraud and corruption. What was revealed was not money laundering but a deep flaw in the unregulated Japanese corporate structure. Woodford traces the problem back to the 1985 Plaza Accord, which had forced devaluation of the yen by a significant percentage. Export-driven corporations sought to cover up spiraling losses with speculation and financial manipulation of off-balance-sheet liabilities. A gripping chronicle by a corporate whistle-blower who achieved a stunning victory.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591845751
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 11/27/2012
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.26 (w) x 9.18 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Michael Woodford grew up in Liverpool and joined Olympus in 1981 as a medical equipment salesman. He later became head of its UK, Mid­dle East and Africa and European businesses. In April 2011 he was appointed president and COO of the Olympus Corporation—the first Western “salaryman” to rise through the ranks to the top of a Japanese giant. That October he was made CEO, but only two weeks later was dismissed after querying inexplicable payments of $1.7 billion. He was named Business Person of the Year by four major newspapers and won the Financial Times/Arcelor-Mittal Boldness in Business Person of the Year award. He lives in London with his wife and two teenage children.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing all of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 18, 2013

    An excellent read!  More of a John Grisham tale than a business

    An excellent read!  More of a John Grisham tale than a business book, with the only difference being that this story actually happened. 
    The author lost everything that he had worked for and almost lost his family and his life trying to expose the truth.  
    Woodford sets the tone of the story by describing his meteroic rise from humble beginnings with no formal education
     to become the CEO of Olympus, the Japanese iconic $12B -"no foreigners need apply for management positions", corporation.
     He then straps you into a roller coaster ride that takes you across multiple continents single handedly trying to tell his message to the 
    world, while potential paid killers are on his trail.
    A true "David vs. Goliath-san" adventure.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted January 11, 2013

    Interesting book

    I found the book to be a little dry but a good overview of the situation that occurred at Olympus and, based on my experience with Japanese firms during the 80s and 90s, a good insight into the mindset of senior Japanese management. As well a warning about incentuous relationships in Japanese business world between firms and banks.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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