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Weeks after taking over as Global CEO of Olympus, Michael uncovered $1.7bn-worth of bizarre M&A deals. When his questions were met with hostility, he blew the whistle: “I thought I was heading an electronics and healthcare company, but found I’d walked into a Grisham novel.” Michael tells the whole, incredible story.
Michael Woodford worked his way up through the ranks of Olympus to become the first non-Japanese head of the century-old company. However, he was dismissed as CEO after just four months when he uncovered explosive financial irregularities. The story reverberated around the world with Michael’s life being threatened whilst also being named Business Person of the Year.
Leaving school at 16 Michael started out as a management trainee at Lucas Aerospace and put himself through Millbank College of Commerce. After a spell at Cadbury Schweppes, he joined the sales force at KeyMed, the UK medical equipment division of Olympus. He made his way up the ladder over the next three decades, running their American and Russian businesses before becoming Executive MD of Olympus Europe. Two years later he was one of only five foreign nationals ever to take the helm of a global Japanese corporation.
Just after taking up his appointment as President and CEO, Michael discovered that hundreds of millions of dollars had been transferred to mysterious accounts, many in the Cayman Islands. When he brought it to the attention of his Chairman and board, and informed a contact at the Financial Times, he was instantly sacked. Told that he should fear for his safety, he returned to London and briefed the Serious Fraud Office, setting in train a series of investigations which would involve the SFO, the FBI and the Toyko Police. The scale of fraud is estimated to be $1.7billion over twenty years. Keen to right the wrongs, Michael also offered to return to Olympus, but was rejected by shareholders.
As recounted in Michael’s book Exposed, and the BBC documentary Full Exposure, the Olympus tale takes in the Yakuza, corporate secrecy, and Japanese concepts of loyalty and reputation. More generally it gets to the heart of what is and what isn’t ethical capitalism. In a frank and entertaining way, Michael tells the story in a keynote or after dinner speech - exploring lessons of business morality and risk management against a truly dramatic backdrop.
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JLA Speakers Breakfast
The Olympus Scandal