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Ex-Olympus chairman Woodford back in Japan, would consider return to helm

Former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan on Friday
Former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan on Friday

TOKYO (TR) – Former Olympus president Michael Woodford said on Friday that he would consider a return to the top of the embattled camera and endoscope maker if the shareholders approved, though he is not obsessed by the idea.

“If I’m not wanted back, and the shareholders will make that decision, then that’s fine by me,” said the 53-year-old at a press conference at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo. “I’m prepared to go back, I have a commitment to the employees.”

Olympus is presently embroiled in a scandal for attempting to hide substantial investment losses dating back decades through questionable acquisitions.

Woodford, a British national, was removed as CEO of Olympus in October. He is still a director at the 92-year-old firm, and returned to Japan this week to meet with prosecutors, police, and regulators from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

On Thursday, three of Olympus’s top executives formally resigned as board members, including former Chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, former Executive Vice President Hisashi Mori, and corporate auditor Hideo Yamada.

Earlier on Friday, Woodford confronted the board for the first time since he was fired on October 14. He divulged little about the meeting but did say that there were discussions regarding the status of the remainder of the board.

“There’s an understanding that these people cannot continue as directors and there will come a point, hopefully in the near future, that they will stand down, allowing Olympus to move forward,” he said. “So in that sense I found the meeting a lot more constructive than I had anticipated.”

Woodford arrived from London on Wednesday. He is assisting authorities about several transactions by Olympus between 2006 and 2008, first reported in Japanese magazine Facta, including the $687 million fee paid to a little-known adviser in its $2 billion acquisition of U.K. medical equipment company Gyrus Group in 2008. He said previously that he was fired from the company when he began raising questions about the deals.

Olympus hopes to meet a December 14 deadline for filing its financial statement for the six-months to September to avoid delisting from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

“The strength of Olympus is the people, the engineering and the manufacturing,” Woodford said. “The weakness is in the corporate side of the business, the commercial side of the business — that’s what will make Olympus live on.”