Can One Man Make A Difference In The Corporate World?

Many of us will have had the conversation with a colleague where grave misgivings about the shape things are taking within the organisation are shared. No matter how heart-felt these convictions are by one or both parties, the conversation always ends when one of you says: “still, what difference does my opinion make – you can’t change the system, can you?” In fairness, you almost never can; even if fact and common sense are on your side. However, as George Orwell had it “… some animals are more equal than others” and this truism may apply to Michael Woodford, outgoing chief executive at Olympus.

The Japanese camera firm and the chief executive parted company on Friday officially over differences in management policy. This was hotly disputed by Mr Woodford who claimed to have been fired for questioning payments related to Olympus’s acquisition of UK medical company Gyrus in a deal worth $2 billion. The dispute centres on payments made to financial advisers involved in the purchase which are reputed to have been worth $687 million; at least six times the going rate. Mr Woodford claims that the payments were made to an unnamed concern in the Cayman Islands.

In the aftermath of the dismissal of Mr Woodford, Olympus has seen five straight days of losses on its stock value which has plummeted by more than 45% since the story broke.

Rather magnanimously, Mr Woodford has offered to return to the fray and help restore Olympus’s fortunes, but despite the fact that he remains a member of the board of directors (at least until the next share holder’s meeting) it is unlikely that he’ll be taken up on his offer; particularly because he has handed a dossier to the Serious Crimes Office in the UK. He had been in his post for just six months.

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