Olympus fires its British boss after just two weeks

 

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The Independent Online

The reign of British businessman Michael Woodford as Olympus's first foreign chief executive has ended after just two weeks, with the ailing Japanese electronics giant firing him after a culture clash.

It emerged yesterday that the board had unanimously agreed to dismiss Mr Woodford as chief executive and president amid concerns about his management style. The news sent its shares crashing 17 per cent lower on the Japanese stock market.

The chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who relinquished the roles when Mr Woodford was appointed, will return. He said yesterday: "We hoped that he could do things that would be difficult for a Japanese executive to do." But he said Mr Woodford did not understand the need to reflect Olympus's management style built up over its 92-year history, "as well as Japanese culture".

Mr Kikukawa added: "He ignored our organisational structure and made decisions entirely on his own judgement." Olympus's grievances included Mr Woodford bypassing managers and giving orders directly to staff.

Mr Woodford has been stripped of his duties and demoted to director level. Olympus's extraordinary step came despite Mr Woodford spending 30 years at the company. He was appointed president in April, and then chief executive at the start of the month, at which time the Olympus board said that his progress since April had "exceeded" expectations.

Mr Woodford had been keen to slash costs to turn around a company whose operating profit fell by 41 per cent to ¥35bn (£289m) in the year to March. He had previously been hailed for streamlining the European operations.

He said in an interview with the British Chamber of Commercemagazine earlier this year: "I understand why Japan gets tagged with the 'unique' label; it's one of the most impenetrable cultures for outsiders... When you change something, you close something or withdraw from something, you will get resistance based on my predecessor's decisions, especially when something is seen as sacrosanct or a holy cow."

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