Olympus has been in the photography game since introducing its first camera back in 1936, but its future as a major player is at risk now that the company is caught up in one of the largest corporate scandals Japan has ever seen. According to Reuters, the company is reviewing its business structure, and there is speculation that it may be forced to sell off assets to survive.
While the company may be best known for its cameras, its actually built around a $2.6 billion endoscope business, of which it virtually holds a worldwide monopoly. Its camera business, on the other hand, is operating at a loss. According to investment bankers, other camera manufacturers are following the Olympus saga closely, but will likely hold off on making a move until things clear up more.
Major camera makers including Olympus, Samsung and Sony have all filed patents in recent days for liquid lens technology. Unlike traditional glass lenses, liquid lenses don’t have any moving parts. Instead, liquid is used to focus light, and different voltages are applied to the liquid to change the shape of the liquid, thereby controlling the image. In the video above, techie Ben Krasnow introduces the technology, and then shows off a device he made by ripping a liquid lens out of a USB webcam.
Here are some developments in the ongoing Olympus scandal: investors and a former director are currently calling for fired CEO Michael Woodford to be brought back to clean house and right the ship. At the same time, The New York Times is reporting that Japanese investigators are still trying to understand a $4.9 billion hole in Olympus’ financial records, and believe that over half of that amount were paid to organized crime groups in Japan. More specifically, the company is accused of being linked to Yamaguchi-Gumi, the country’s most infamous yazuka organization.
The financial scandal rocking Olympus is one that the company may not survive. The company’s stock price plunged another 17% today, and the Tokyo Stock Exchange has informed the company that it will be delisted if it doesn’t meet a December 14th deadline for reporting earnings. The New York Times has a great piece on how Olympus got itself into this mess:
In June 1998, a disturbing rumor tore through trading floors in Tokyo: Olympus had suffered colossal losses on derivatives trading, punching a large hole in its balance sheet. The company’s shares spiraled down 11 percent in three days.
But Olympus categorically denied the rumor and went on to post record profits. All was well in the house of Olympus, the newly installed president, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, assured investors.
Turns out the losses were in fact real. They were so colossal, however, that booking all of them could have pushed the company into bankruptcy. The management then decided to fudge their numbers in an effort to save the company.
Olympus admitted today that its top executives used dubious acquisitions to sweep 20 years of massive losses under the carpet. At a press conference in Tokyo, new President Shuichi Takayama revealed that the 2008 acquisitions at the center of the company’s ongoing scandal were used to cover-up failed securities investments dating back to the early 1990s. Michael Woodford, the ex-CEO who brought the acquisitions to light, says that further inquiry is needed and that the company leadership needs to be purged:
This is a very big day. The big questions now are: who helped us – which outside companies? And what monies have they received? [...] The position of the board and non-execs is untenable now.
The news immediately crushed Olympus’ stock, causing it to drop 29% in one day. The company has lost 70% of its market value since the scandal began in mid-October and is now facing major consequences — including the possibility of getting delisted from the Tokyo Stock Exchange.
In year 2008, something happened at Olympus that turned the company from an entity focussed on seven major business areas, into a company completely out of focus, blurred by a total of seventeen business areas, to include real estate, investments, consulting, waste disposal, labor dispatch, and running travel agencies. Igari Toshiro, former prosecutor turned anti-yakuza crusader, who was Japan’s greatest expert on white-collar organized crime aka the keizai yakuza (経済ヤクザ）and many veteran organized crime detectives have stated that one of the first signs that a company has been infiltrated by anti-social forces is a sudden and totally new change in company direction–especially into areas like waste disposal, labor dispatch (temporary staffing), and real estate—all areas where anti-social forces have carved out a large niche for themselves.
Just days after being fired, former Chairman Michael Woodford was quoted as saying, “There were $800 million in payments to buy companies making face cream and Tupperware. What the hell were we doing paying $800 million for these companies?”
Olympus Chairman and President Tsuyoshi Kikukawa resigned today under pressure from the company’s ongoing financial scandal. The 70-year-old was a 45-year veteran of the company and was the president in the late 2000s when the dubious payments took place. Former president Michael Woodford — the man whose accusations put Olympus in the spotlight — has stated in interviews that the entire board of directors at the company is “toxic”, “contaminated”, and needs to resign. However, a member of that same board has been named as Kikukawa’s replacement.
More news from the ongoing Olympus scandal: despite an official explanation issued by Olympus last week, the company’s stock has continued to plummet. It closed today at ¥1,099, down from around ¥2,500 before the crisis began. Investors are apparently spooked after a major Japanese newspaper suggested that the payments at the center of the controversy could have links to the criminal underworld (something the company has denied). The New York Times is reporting that the FBI is now involved in the investigation.
Bloomberg writes that Olympus’ stock price makes it an attractive option for a potential acquisition: the current price pegs Olympus’ market value at $3.85 billion, even though its medical-equipment business alone is worth $7.8 billion.
Since Olympus abruptly fired CEO Michael Woodford (pictured, on left) four days ago, the company’s stock price has fallen from roughly ¥2,480 to its current price of ¥1,417, a 43% drop that wiped out nearly $4 billion in value. As we reported yesterday, Woodford is now asking the UK to investigate the company’s financial practices, and is claiming that he was booted when on the verge of exposing fraud. Read more…