Briton chosen to lead Olympus to new heights

  • @MrNickClark

Olympus has joined the select group of Japanese companies with foreigners at the helm by naming a Briton as its new head. Michael Woodford, who has been at the camera maker for three decades, will take over as the company's president and executive officer at the beginning of April.

He will replace Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who will become chairman and who backed the appointment as "vital for our corporation in advancing to the next stage of globalisation".

The move is part of the company's strategic overhaul, which it hopes will make it more competitive. The so-called 2010 Corporate Strategic Plan kicks off in March and runs to 2015.

Olympus struggled during the downturn and was forced to cut costs and sell off businesses to cope with a slide in revenues. In its 2008 financial year, the group plunged to a ¥115bn net loss, the largest since it had begun compiling results. It revealed yesterday that third-quarter net profits had fallen 80 per cent to ¥8.6bn (£64m).

Mr Woodford, who was born on Merseyside, has been given the task of taking the company "to the next stage of globalisation". He spoke of his "honour" at being appointed president, saying he would work with the chairman "to fulfil our strategic plan for the growth and rapid progress of our company".

Olympus may be best known to British consumers for its cameras, but the company also makes equipment in the medical, life science, industrial and business development fields. The company said Mr Woodford would direct efforts to bring the divisions under the same management rules; he would also oversee the company's IT and operating systems and help build a "more flexible and effective" business foundation.

Mr Woodford joined the medical and industrial equipment group KeyMed, a UK subsidiary of Olympus, in 1981, becoming managing director of the division 10 years later at the age of 30.

He continued his rise up the ranks, becoming executive managing director of Olympus Medical Systems Europa in 2005. The group said he boosted revenues after making "drastic reforms to strengthen the organisation".

Shortly after, he took over the European businesses and steered some global strategy drives for the outgoing president, Mr Kikukawa.

Mr Kikukawa said the new president had "achieved a great deal for Olympus", adding that he had "successfully consolidated businesses in Europe, despite its diverse cultures, customs and markets, [and] pushed forward reforms in business structure and processes, always with a global perspective."

Olympus was established in 1919 as Takachiho Seisakusho. It chose the name Olympus, after the mountain home of the gods in Greek legend, because Mount Takachiho is home to the gods in Japanese mythology.

Foreign businessmen who have made it big in Japan

Sir Howard Stringer

Sir Howard, the head of Sony, hails from Cardiff and has dual UK/US citizenship. He joined Sony in 1997 in the US after 30 years at CBS. He was the first non-Japanese to be appointed chief executive of Sony in 2005, and became president in 2009.

Carlos Ghosn

The chief executive of Nissan and Renault was born in Brazil and is of Lebanese descent.

After 18 years at Michelin he joined Renault in 1996. He arrived at Nissan in 1999 and was made chief executive two years later; he is celebrated in Japan for turning the group around.

Craig Naylor

Mr Naylor was appointed head of NSG Group, the former Nippon Sheet Glass Company, in June last year. The company, which owns Pilkington in the UK, surprised the market when it appointed the American DuPont executive after an eight-month search.