Last year, Olympus CEO Michael Woodford discovered shady financial dealings within the company that reached all the way to to the top of the corporate ladder. When the board of directors found out that Woodford knew about millions of dollars in hidden investment losses, they promptly fired him, setting off alarm bells in the media and throughout global financial markets.
A Westerner at the top of a Japanese multinational company was almost unheard of at the time. But instead of ignoring the revelations of financial crimes at Olympus as many before him had done, Woodford spoke out. In November 2011, Woodford told The Takeaway, "When you start to get back answers...If I then just became passive and didn't do anything with those answers, then I would have become complicit. And I couldn't do that."
When all was said and done, it turned out that Olympus had covered up losses of more than $1.5 billion over a number of years.
Woodford's new memoir, "Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went from CEO to Whistleblower," chronicles the ordeal.
Woodford tells an anecdote from his teenage years, when he once stole some money from his mother. "She simply told me that she'd seen that I'd taken some money from her purse and if she couldn't trust her own son, who could she trust in this world. And it made an impression on me."
"A lot of people look at whistle-blowing as a squealer, as a snitch," Woodford says. "What I wanted to do in this book was to tell people of the challenges which you'll face and really ask people how they would react in the same circumstances."
"The choices were very simple," he says, describing the moment when he realized that there were some very bad things happening within the company for which he was responsible for as the CEO. As far as Woodford was concerned, this was a black and white case - to keep silent would be to condone something which he knew was wrong.
"Fraud happens everywhere," Woodford says. "The difference is, when it comes out in Japan, it's like Alice in Wonderland. The way the company was allowed to deny the undeniable, and the Japanese media was almost like the PR office for Olympus."
"That's one of the problems for Japan, it hasn't got a media which is willing to confront and challenge and probe," he says. The Japanese shareholders were similarly afraid to challenge the Olympus institution - though billions of dollars had been lost, Woodford felt in the "deafening silence" of the Japanese shareholders that he was still not getting their support.
Nevertheless, Woodford is now fully recovered from the scandal, just a year after its unraveling. "This idea that whistle-blowers will never work again, or it always ends in tears," Woodford says, is nonsense. "I've come out of it."
Having received numerous awards, and job offers, as well having successfully published a well-reviewed book, Michael Woodford is a testament to the fact that "It doesn't have to end in tears."