Sack Olympus board and I will return, says ex-boss

Ousted British chief executive urges Japanese firm's investors to cut out the 'cancer' at the top

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The Independent Online

The ousted Olympus chief executive, Michael Woodford, pledged yesterday to return if shareholders cut out the "cancer" at the company by removing the current board.

The Briton, who was fired just two weeks into his tenure as the Japanese firm's first foreign boss, urged investors to "take action and oust the board" by July's annual general meeting. He told The Independent: "Shareholders need to take the heat out of this situation and make things right."

Technically, Mr Woodford remains an Olympus employee, despite being stripped of his roles as president and chief executive at an emergency board meeting last Friday. At a hastily arranged press conference that day, the Olympus chairman, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, blamed a culture clash and Mr Woodford's management style for the board's decision.

But Mr Woodford believes he was ousted after writing a series of letters raising "serious governance concerns" about four deals carried out by the company. His final letter called for Mr Kikukawa's resignation.

Yesterday, he said he would return if backed by shareholders: "If I did go back, and there was a new board, this really could be a new beginning for the company."

He said he still had a great affection for the company he served for 30 years, apart from the current management. "There are so many good people at the company, who are hugely worried about what has happened there. I do not want them cut adrift."

The equipment-maker's shares continued to tumble yesterday, falling by another 10 per cent. Olympus has lost more than 40 per cent of value since Thursday. Its investors, especially in the West, have become increasingly nervous as the losses mount, and have held meetings about how to respond.

"It all comes down to confidence in the management," Mr Woodford said. "What the company really needs now is to stabilise, and it will be able to do that as soon as the whole board is changed."

On Monday, Mr Woodford passed a series of documents to the Serious Fraud Office in London. These included the six letters he wrote to the board and a copy of an inquiry by the PricewaterhouseCoopers into Olympus's acquisition of Gyrus Group, where a third of the cost went to its adviser Axes.

He also raised concerns about three deals for small businesses that Olympus completed in 2008 for ¥70bn (£580m). A year later the company wrote down a similar sum as an impairment.

A spokesman for Olympus said last night: "All [mergers and acquisitions have] been carried out under appropriate procedures and processes as well as proper accounting practices."

He reiterated that the company was considering legal action against Mr Woodford "as one of the options". On Monday, the former chief executive had welcomed such a move, telling Olympus: "Come to the High Court."