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Michael Woodford on Power and the Media in Japan

SNA (Tokyo) — Former President and CEO of Olympus Michael Woodford visits the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan and speaks about his experience and the Japanese systems of power and the media.


Michael Woodford: I’m a businessman, and I thought I was going to run a healthcare company, like I’ve done in Europe and America and the UK, and the consumer electronics company, and I found myself in this John Grisham novel, with all sorts of flying to New York to meet the FBI, references to organized crime, boardroom conflict, character assassination, the whole thing has been a bizarre way to live.

And his answer, which in retrospect is even more chilling than it was at the time, he said to me, “Michael, I work for Mr. Kikukawa, I’m loyal to Mr. Kikukawa.” And I knew at that point, there was something horribly wrong at the top of Olympus. Something very, very wrong.

To put yourself through this, a lot of people think I’m mad, I’ve had so many colleagues supporting, Olympus has worked hard with their black propaganda.

I did worry, “Was there a free press in Japan?” I thought that when Jonathan’s story broke and it didn’t seem to go anywhere. And some of the Japanese articles were on page four and sound like a spokesman for the Olympus PR department. I did worry about that. But then I remembered, Facta did publish, it did publish, it wasn’t closed down, and Mr. Abe wasn’t killed by nasty people, so that was also reassuring.

Who believes in this room if I had gone directly to the Japanese authorities, this issue… No, I just want to see the answer of the audience. I don’t like one person dictating. Put your hand up if you feel this issue would have been dealt with adequately in the same thorough way if I had gone to the Japanese authorities. Please put your hand up.

Like many things in life, media, and the reason I’m here now, rather than lying on my bed recovering, media is everything in these sort of stories, and Japan, if you live and work here you will understand, there is a whole set of different rules, everything from cross-shareholding to past scandals to not rocking the boat. So I don’t think I had any alternative. It would have been much easier to resign, pass over the file to the police, and go on, but I don’t think anything would have happened. I think the same board would still be in position.