Major investors demand answers from Olympus

  • @MrNickClark

Olympus's second-largest shareholder yesterday demanded answers to the issues raised by its ousted chief executive over four takeovers and joined calls for an independent investigation.

Southeastern Asset Management, which has a holding of close to 5 per cent in Olympus, followed two other major shareholders, Nippon Life and Harris Associates, in heaping pressure on the board.

It sent a letter in the morning to the board, the Tokyo Stock Exchange and the Japanese regulator with an "extensive list of questions". Josh Shores, the senior analyst and principal at Southeastern, said: "We think it is incumbent on the board to provide real assurances, very quickly."

Southeastern wants an independent committee established, which could then bring in auditors to investigate the controversial transactions. It wants a report by 16 November, Mr Shores said. "If the board can answer these questions satisfactorily, that's fine," he said. "If they can't, or won't, the direction taken may be different." Southeastern has invested in Japan since the late 1990s and has held Olympus stock since 2004. It has become concerned by the events of the past week with the firing of Mr Woodford over what the board called a culture clash.

The former head, who was removed just two weeks after he was appointed as the company's first foreign chief executive, believes he was ousted after raising serious corporate governance issues at the group.

"Michael Woodford's appointment as president and then chief executive was a huge step forward for the company, at the time we said how pleased we were. The fact he has been forced out is a big step back," Mr Shores said. "We are very disappointed now."

Harris Associates has also written to Olympus in the wake of the "massive destruction of stakeholder value".