Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Sympathy For The Devils

Amidst the opprobrium being rained down upon the corporate leadership of Olympus, it is worthwhile to draw a distinction between the devils worthy of our sympathy and those not. Certainly the present president of Olympus, Takayama Shuichi, needs to be replaced as soon as possible. His denials over the last two weeks of the inappropriateness of the astronomically high payments to soon-disappearing Cayman Islands entities and the acquisition of clearly worthless companies for immense sums that one year had to be written down, only for him to come forth yesterday with an admission that whole kit and caboodle was a scheme to wipe off the books losses the company had been hiding for some time (he implied decades – I am not so sure it has been that long) immediately nullifies his capacity to serve as CEO. Who can ever trust anything he says now, when he could not/would not investigate payments that the rest of the planet saw as clearly beyond all reason?

As for those who cooked up the schemes -- former president Kikukawa Tsuyoshi, former vice president Mori Hisashi and their as-yet unnamed collaborators -- they deserve a measure of sympathy. True, they likely broke security laws and willfully stiffed shareholders of the information necessary to make a proper evaluation of the company. They were, however, simultaneously responsible for the continued viability of a profitable company that has 40,000 employees worldwide. The schemes that they cooked up also probably cost Olympus next to nothing, as the money paid out almost certainly made its way back to Olympus' accounts.

That the corporate leadership of such a valuable and value-creating entity might get confused as to whose interests they were supposed to be serving and the morality of their undertakings is understandable, especially within the confines of a corporate culture where shareholders are not given precedence among a company's stakeholders.

From the looks of it (the facts may change quickly, especially as regards the acquisitions of the three tiny profitless companies), the leaders of the company thought they had laid to rest a problem that had been handed to them by their predecessors, and in a manner that left no one the wiser and nobody hurt – until an outsider* came in and began asking some rather simple questions.

* OK, so maybe it is a stretch to call a 30 year veteran of the company an outsider. Ride with me on this one.

Later - John Gapper of the Financial Times presents a refreshingly non-bombastic argument to the contrary (Link)


Joe said...

But it's still their position that they did nothing wrong, and that the "outsider" deserved to be fired for his selfishness.

MTC said...

Joe -

Takayama has admitted that the transactions were fraudulent and named three persons as the perpetrators. When asked about the criminal or civil liabilities, he demured making a determination at this time. The three named perps have remained out of sight and incommunicado.

As for the status of Michael Woodford now, Takayama has only said that he would not be reinstated. This is not surprising, as the seat Woodford would be occupying is the one Takayama now sits in.