Michael Woodford, ousted as head of Japanese camera-to-endoscope maker Olympus after blowing the whistle on one of Japan’s biggest corporate frauds, on Tuesday won a likely multi-million dollar settlement of his claim for unfair dismissal.
After a night of negotiations, Woodford’s lawyer Tom Linden told a London employment tribunal judge that final agreement hinged on ratification by the Olympus board at a meeting on June 8.
“So hopefully today is a closure, a line has been drawn, the company can move on and I can,” Woodford, a 51 year-old Briton, told reporters outside the courtroom.
“I am not at liberty, under the terms of the agreement, to go into any detail. But I genuinely hope that in the interests of Olympus, they can move forward and also that I can.”
Woodford, the first foreign CEO appointed at Olympus, was fired two weeks into the job last October after persistently warning about corruption at the top echelons of the company.
The company’s shares have since crashed, its board has resigned and, against the backdrop of a clutch of arrests and an international investigation by U.S., Japanese and British prosecutors, it is struggling to draw a line under the $1.7 billion accounting scandal.
An out-of-court settlement of Woodford’s case was widely expected after the tribunal was delayed on Monday for extra discussions among legal teams.
Lawyers say most employers prefer to settle such cases rather than risk further reputational damage and unlimited payouts as a result of open court sessions.
Lost salary claim
Woodford, who still had 44 months of his CEO contract to run, had been expected to sue for up to 10 years’ lost salary — worth around 35 million pounds ($56 million) — although damages would have hinged in part on whether he is likely ever to regain a career at global CEO level again.
“I think settlement was always an option, but the adverse media coverage which Olympus would have attracted by defending this case would have influenced the amount and the timing of settlement,” noted Jo Keddie, employment partner at law firm Winckworth Sherwood.
Woodford, who plans to publish a book in English about his experiences, said he would return to his seaside home in south eastern England.
“I’m going sailing this afternoon,” he told his legal team.
Woodford has said that after an Olympus board meeting at which he was not allowed to speak, he was told to vacate his Tokyo apartment, return his laptops and telephones and take the bus to the airport.
Olympus said Woodford was sacked because the 30-year company veteran failed to understand its management style and Japanese culture.
But over the following weeks, regulators uncovered an accounting fraud stretching back over more than a decade.
Woodford abandoned his attempt to launch a board coup and regain his CEO position in January after failing to win the backing of Japanese shareholders. He blamed cozy ties between its management and big local investors.