Wrong man to run a company

Regarding the Dec. 2 Timeout article “Japan’s whistle-blower supreme speaks out“: Former Olympus Corp. President and CEO Michael Woodford deserves full credit for his accomplishments with Olympus in Europe, and for bringing the appalling status of corporate governance in Japan to a largely naive audience.

Woodford’s failure in Japan is not the result of external circumstances; it is due to the simple fact that, unlike Carlos Ghosn (chairman and CEO of the Renault-Nissan Alliance) and many others, Woodford could not successfully manage across borders and cultures in today’s global economy.

Japanese companies, Japan’s Financial Services Agency and the Japanese public all have sanctioning mechanisms for dealing with fraud, albeit not in a way to Woodford’s liking. In trying to set things right, he imposed “his way” — familiar Anglo-Saxon confrontational management beliefs — onto a Japanese corporation and the Japanese public in place of a more effective, culturally appropriate set of actions.

The Olympus board of directors must share the blame for failing to understand that Woodford was the wrong person to serve as president of any Japanese company.

Woodford’s conclusion that the “club” was the root cause of the predicted implosion of corporate Japan can best be described as “liquor store” economics. Industry-specific problems (as in the electronics industry) have underlying and well-researched causes (misreading market trends, “Galapagos” syndrome, etc.)

Companies and markets in distress have correction mechanisms in Japan that are different from those in the West. Woodford, again, would be well advised to analyze an industry before making claims that smell more of personal bitterness than of economic substance.

Like others who have failed in Japan before him, Woodford conveniently ignores the many traditional and nontraditional Japanese companies that have achieved unprecedented global success. He thus demonstrates the difficulties in analyzing the successes and failures of Japan Inc.

manuel ploch
kobe

The opinions expressed in this letter to the editor are the writer’s own and do not necessarily reflect the policies of The Japan Times.