Olympus intends to maintain its focus on excellence

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  • Friday, 23 Mar 2012

WHAT better way could there be to kick-start Power Lunch, than to talk with the CEO of a company that has been making global business headlines? Since October 2011 much has been said (and written) about the scandal plaguing Olympus and the attention has raised many questions with regard to the future of the company. What went wrong? Where do they go from here? Is this mammoth of the digital imaging industry doomed?

But, with all things serious lined up on the table, we must still strike a balance…

Dining at the Oriental Pavilion with Olympus Malaysia CEO Tan Tick Boon, was both a mental and gastronomical indulgence! From before the first course was served the conversation flowed easily — shark’s fin soup all around?

We think not! An avid lover of all things in nature and who has a high regard for life, Tan spoke passionately of the need to preserve the environment and the importance of ecological responsibility on all fronts.

As we feasted, we spoke of the loves of his life — about his passion for photography and his love of exploring the world. It’s undoubted that, for Tan, his business is very much intertwined with his life, though this is unsurprising considering it has been a 28-year involvement.

Through the years, Olympus has indeed made a strong name for itself. Olympus was the first brand to introduce the Live View and Varimagnifiers feature for the DSLR cameras, and they also developed the SSWF (Supersonic Wave Filter) sensor-cleaning system.

With their cameras, they were pioneers who have “crystallised” (to use Tan’s word) much of what we have come to value when we consider digital cameras.

In addition, though maybe not open knowledge to the general consumer, Olympus focuses not just on cameras, but also on medical imaging technology.

They have in fact cornered up to 85% of the global market with their range of medical endoscopes.

But, what I want to know is ... now what? With the ongoing turbulence affecting Olympus, my interest lies in the company’s future. This is what Tan had to say:

Can you give us a brief run through of what led up to the crisis with Olympus and what’s being done about it now?

“It’s an accounting problem which led to this scandal, where some of the investments that were made turned sour, which resulted in big losses for the company.

Some of the top management tried to hide these losses. But, the company has taken very active steps to correct the situation by writing back the wrongs in our accounting books. We did that on Dec 14 after a month’s delay.

The accounts were officially due on Nov 14 — we delayed that and submitted new reports and the accounting figures to meet the Tokyo Stock Exchange deadline.

And the past huge losses have been reported and those top executives in Japan who were responsible for the cover up are being held accountable.

The company has also been fined by the Tokyo Stock Exchange for the cover up. A new board of directors has already been announced — pending the official approval at our April 20 AGM.

This new board of directors is highly respectable and the majority are independent personalities in various fields and industries.

And, with this new board taking charge the company has set in place a lot of protective measures so that this type of hidden information will never happen again.”

Where does that leave the brand in the eyes of the public?

“It has been very painful to see a reputable company like Olympus go through this. Olympus is a company which has been trusted by a broad spectrum of consumers. They see Olympus as a responsible brand. Focus on Life has been our tagline.

We have been very socially responsible. That social responsibility has been damaged by the crisis, but the company has moved fast.

April 20 will be a defining moment for the company. Not just in Japan, but worldwide. The damage to trust and values, which is so intangible, I think will take quite awhile for the company to regain. ”

How does Olympus intend to come back from such a blow?

“I feel that at the end of the day if Olympus continues to come out with new products, not withstanding this crisis which is going on in Japan, I’m very confident that consumers will forgive this mistake that Olympus has made — because it is a company that has always focused on saving lives, on respecting life and on capturing life’s precious moments. Measures have been put into place to ensure that such kinds of scandals will never happen again.

But, more importantly is the introduction of new products that keep on focusing on life, that challenge the technology front and that challenge the status quo — Your vision, our future.

When people see this kind of commitment and focus from our company in every layer of our employees worldwide — the continuous drive to enhance Olympus reputation and products.

I believe that some these models that we have announced and are going to launch will win back the confidence”

The most recent data available to us has placed Olympus Mirrorless Interchangeable Lens cameras at the following: 50% in Taiwan, 45% to 50% in Japan and Hong Kong, 30% in Sout Korea and Singapore and 20% in Malaysia, Thailand and the UK.

The numbers suggest a future that is still bright. However, with April 20 looming, the AGM is expected to bring major changes to the company.

Along with the global release of the Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera at the end of this month, it’s looking like it’s going to be a very busy time for all at Olympus. Will the company be able to rise from fallen grace? Time will tell as the public responds.

> MetroBiz thanks Oriental Pavilion for providing the venue for this interview.

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