Olympus board resigns, names new president and chairman

Olympus Hiroyuki Sasa

Japan’s scandal-tainted Olympus has announced (PDF) that its entire board is resigning and the company plans to install both a new president and a new chairman in an effort to turn the company around. The company has named Hiroyuki Sasa as its new president, and former Sumitomo Mitsui executive Yasuyuki Kimoto as its new chairman—both appointments will need approval from shareholders at an “extraordinary” meeting in April. Olympus also announced candidates for its new board of directors (including six members from outside the company) as well as new corporate auditors, one of whom represents Nippon Life, one of Olympus’s top institutional shareholders.

“The mission that I will be given is to rebuild the damaged brand and regain public trust as quickly as possible,” Sasa said in a press conference. “I will need to reform the management structure radically, so that a problem like this will never occur again.”

Sasa is an Olympus insider, currently in charge of marketing operations for the company’s medical business. Although best-known to consumers as a maker of digital cameras, Olympus dominates the market for medical endoscopes, commanding about 70 percent of the worldwide market for gastrointestinal endoscopes.

Kimoto is a former executive at Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp., which is Olympus’s primary banking institution.

Some industry speculation has centered on Olympus seeking a partnership with another major Japanese company in order to stabilize its financials and bring some credibility back to its name. A major candidate may be Sony, who’s incoming CEO Kazuo Hirai has indicated he wants to increase Sony’s presence in the medical industry. There has also been some speculation Olympus might sell off its camera business to the likes of Panasonic, Ricoh, Fujifilm, or Canon.

Olympus was rocked last year when it sacked CEO Michael Woodford only a few weeks into his job. Woodford had questioned payments related to Olympus’s acquisition of medical equipment maker Gyrus, and went public with his allegations after being fired. The resulting investigation eventually unveiled decades of financial coverups at the 92-year-old company, leading to mass resignations in the company leadership and (most recently) the arrest of three former corporate officers. Woodford eventually dropped his bid to be re-instated as CEO; he is suing the company and is considering writing a book.