The Dec. 2 Timeout feature, “Japan’s whistle-blower supreme speaks out,” misses several points. Former Olympus Corp. chief Michael Woodford is not quite the hero the article portrays. Woodford was brought in to help a company in trouble, and failed.
Like many other Japanese companies, Olympus got caught up in the zaitech boom of the late 1980s and was left holding badly devalued land assets following the collapse of the bubble. Like many other companies, it held on to those assets, waiting for the expected economic recovery and relying on the then sensible and legal tobashi technique of ignoring paper losses of assets.
Would any company director who sold out at rock-bottom prices immediately after the Lehman Brothers crash (2008) deserve respect? On the contrary he would deserve to be sued.
In the case of the United States it was obvious that the government would move to stimulatory policies and that asset prices would recover. Who could have predicted that Japan would do the opposite and move to foolish austerity policies? But it did. Asset prices collapsed even further. And during the Junichiro Koizumi-Heizo Takenaka austerity, Tokyo moved even more foolishly to make any form of tobashi illegal. Olympus had no choice but to move those collapsed assets off its books.
True, the manner in which it tried to do this was amateurish, illegal even. Olympus, a company that makes endoscopes that have saved millions of lives around the world, clearly did not have the expertise needed to dump failed assets. Woodford, it seems, knew little of this. So he was able to march in to tell us about the evil he had exposed. And we foreigners were able to tell ourselves once again how foreigner morality and expertise were needed to keep these outrageous Japanese under control. Pathetic.
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.