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奥林巴斯:天价咨询费有玄机,掌门人逼宫反被炒

Kevin Kelleher 2011年10月25日

很少有哪个公司的董事会丑闻会闹到日本摄影器材巨头奥林巴斯的地步。这出好戏一波三折,另人瞠目。故事的每个转折都带来了新的问题,比如菊川刚背后的神秘人佐川元究竟是何方神圣?他如何从奥林巴斯拿走了6.8亿美元的天价“咨询费”?

    陷入麻烦的公司总是很难看。不过很少有哪家陷入危机的公司会难看到奥林巴斯的地步,或是情形蹊跷到它的地步。

    奥林巴斯(Olympus)是一个全球性的品牌,但这家公司并不经常吸引媒体的关注。这么多年来,我们中的大多数人恐怕至少都买过一台奥林巴斯的相机、望远镜或数码录音笔,但我们很少考虑关于它的领导层或董事会的事。不过情况在上周急转直下,奥林巴斯的新CEO上任才两周就被解雇,引爆了这家日本公司92年以来最大的危机。

    奥林巴斯近来发生的一幕幕,颇有点好莱坞电影《全面反击》(Michael Clayton)的味道,而且目前看来,好戏还没有到谢幕的时候。奥林巴斯的营收已经连续三年出现下降,它2010年的营收只有2007年的四分之三。为了扭转消费商品领域的颓势,奥林巴斯积极在医疗保健设备领域进行扩张,现在它的医疗保健设备已经贡献了公司大半的净利润。

    今年2月,原奥林巴斯欧洲业务负责人迈克尔•伍德福德获得晋升,成为公司总裁。10月1日,伍德福德又被任命为CEO,原总裁兼CEO菊川刚则改任董事长。一开始,大家都认为伍德福德是一个能够强化奥林巴斯的全球影响的领袖。他与菊川刚已经共事了30年,两人在公开场合都赞扬过对方。伍德福德称菊川刚是一个“激进的、敢于冒险的人”,同时“拥有彻底变革的决心”。他还说,他与菊川刚拥有相同的幽默感。

    不过现在这两个人都笑不出来了。上周五,伍德福德来到奥林巴斯的董事会,称对公司治理存在强烈担忧,要求菊川刚辞去董事长一职。这次会议仅仅持续了10分钟,而且其中7分钟都是在等菊川刚到场。然后,董事会投票表决,解除伍德福德的总裁兼CEO的职务。15名董事中有14人支持解雇伍德福德(不过伍德福德仍然是奥林巴斯的董事之一)。唯一一个投弃权票的就是伍德福德自己,因为董事会不允许他发言。不过此后,伍德福德却大胆开口,炮轰不止。

    伍德福特在接受采访时称,他在杂志上读到了一些文章,因此深感忧虑。报道质疑了奥林巴斯近年来做出的几起并购,尤其是2007年斥资19.2亿美元收购英国医疗设备制造商Gyrus集团这笔交易。后来他发现,有两家咨询公司以现金、认股证书和优先股等形式,从奥林巴斯获得了6.87亿美元的费用,他们分别是纽约的Axes America公司以及它在开曼群岛的子公司 Axam Investments公司。这笔费用相当于交易价的36%。伍德福德称,对于一桩20亿美元的交易来说,付给咨询公司的费用一般来说只有1%。一开始,奥林巴斯不承认这笔费用的数目,但后来却变卦了,承认伍德福德报出的数字准确无误。

    A company in turmoil is never a pretty sight. But few corporate crises are as ugly -- and strange -- as the one afflicting Olympus Corp.

    Olympus is a global brand, but its company usually doesn't make headlines. Over the years, most of us have bought at least one of its cameras, binoculars or digital voice recorders, without much thought to its executives and board. All that changed last week, when the firing of the company's CEO only two weeks into the job precipitated what is surely the biggest crisis in the Japanese company's 92 years.

    The drama to date has had a Michael Clayton element to it. And, it appears nowhere near finished. Olympus' revenue had fallen for three straight years so that its fiscal 2010 revenue was three quarters of the 2007 figure. To counter a slump in consumer products, Olympus had expanded aggressively into medical and life-science equipment, which now make up more than half its net profit.

    In February, Olympus promoted Michael Woodford from head of European operations to company president. On Oct. 1, Woodford was also named CEO, taking over both positions from Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who became the board's chairman. At first, Woodford was cast as an executive who could strengthen Olympus' global presence. He had a 30-year working relationship with Kikukawa, and the two men openly praised each other. Woodford called Kikukawa "radical and adventurous" with a "determination for drastic change." Plus, he said, the two men shared the same sense of humor.

    Neither man is laughing today. Last Friday, Woodford went to Olympus' board to demand Kikukawa's resignation as chairman, citing serious governance concerns. The meeting lasted 10 minutes, seven of which were spent waiting for Kikukawa to arrive. Then, 14 of the 15 board members voted to fire Woodford as president and CEO (although he remains a director). The 15th, Woodford himself, wasn't allowed to speak at the meeting. But he has spoken since -- loudly and repeatedly.

    In interviews, Woodford said he grew concerned after reading magazine stories that questioned acquisitions Olympus made in recent years, notably the November 2007 purchase of U.K. medical-equipment maker Gyrus Group for $1.92 billion. Woodford then discovered that two advisory companies -- Axes America of New York and its Cayman Islands subsidiary Axam Investments -- received $687 million in fees through cash, warrants and preferred shares. That figure is equal to 36% of the deal's value. Woodford said a $2 billion deal would normally pay a 1% fee to advisers. At first, Olympus disputed the fee amount, then backpedaled and acknowledged it was accurate.

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