Probably his only 'cultural insensitivity' was the effrontery to send a formal memo to his immediate boss, Kikukawa, suggesting that he and executive vice president Hisashi Mori resign. (Olympus denies that Woodford was fired for this memo; Kikukawa resigned on Oct. 26 but insisted that there was no corruption involved in the company’s recent business moves.)
Oddly enough, one of the few recent reforms of corporate governance in recent years was the enactment of a whistleblower protection law. In August, the high court ordered Olympus to pay Y2.2 million to a 50-year-old employee transferred three times for blowing the whistle on his boss. Woodford would seem to be the ultimate whistle blower.
Another issue is the role of Japan's press as a watchdog. Some elements of the media, such as FACTA magazine, have been covering this story since the questionable acquisitions in 2008 (which Olympus eventually wrote off as bad investments to the tune of $728 million), but the mainstream media mostly ignored the story until the Woodford resignation in mid-October broke it wide open.
The possible Yakuza (Japanese gangster) connection comes mainly from the sudden and suspicious turn the company took in 2008 when it changed its business focus toward real estate, medical waste disposal and temporary staffing enterprises. 'What happened at Olympus has all of the hallmarks of anti-social forces [i.e. yakuza] gaining entry,' wrote Jake Adelstein, an expert on Japan’s underworld.
Nobody has yet connected the Gyrus takeover with white crime, but the alleged recipients are still mostly dark horses. So far the speculation centers on two obscure Japanese expatriates, Hajime Sagawa and Akio Nakagawa, and their Cayman Island-registered entities. The New York Times, which did most of the work on this story angle, admitted their investigation had many unanswered questions, including the whereabouts of Nakagawa.
The recent revelations sent Olympus stock prices tumbling by more than 50 percent. Naturally, that has got the many shareholders worried. Another peculiar Japanese corporate practice is 'cross-holdings,' in which companies take small stakes of no more than about four to five percent in each others’ companies.
Normally, these shareholders don’t interfere in the company’s business decisions, but this may not be the case with Olympus. The largest sake holders are pillars of Japan Inc., including Nippon Life, Mitsubishi UFJ, Sumitomo and Tokai Marine Holdings. They have seen the value of their holdings cut in half and they are seeking answers.
So far, Japan's securities watchdogs have not intervened. Woodford turned the Price Waterhouse report over to the UK Serious Fraud Office, but the Tokyo Stock Exchange has not yet placed Olympus on a watch list or taken any further steps, so far. Woodford remains on the board, one of three 'outside' members out of 15 (the other are Oympus veterans).
There will certainly be more investigations, more exposés, and nobody knows what they will reveal.