Expert comment: Olympus and former executives plead guilty

Dr Pamela Yeow, Lecturer in Human Resource Management and Deputy Director of MBA Programmes, Kent Business School, University of Kent comments on – Olympus and former executives plead guilty

In yet another scandal, this time in Japan, former Olympus chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa has pleaded guilty to charges of falsifying accounts, covering up losses of $1.7bn (£1.1bn). Mr Kikukawa together with two former employees has been charged with hiding losses since the 1990s. All this was brought to light by a former chief executive, Michael Woodward, who was dismissed from his post after challenging Mr Kikukawa and the board over suspiciously large payments related to acquisitions.

This story has implications for researchers interested in trust and trust repair, whistleblowing and its consequences, and those interested in cross-cultural behaviours and attributes. Hoftstede, Trompenaars and Schwartz are a few renowned names of cultural research. House’s (1991, 2007) extensive GLOBE study has looked at cultural dimensions and clusters of leadership theory and leader behaviour in 61 countries and this has led to interesting findings.

These include the finding of Universal and Culturally Contingent Leader Characteristics that suggest that there are indeed leader characteristics which are universally desired or undesired. Across all 61 countries in the GLOBE leadership study, people want their leaders to be trustworthy, just, honest, and decisive, but how individual cultures perceive such traits significantly differ. So, for example, a leader who is seen to be trustworthy in the UK may be someone who’s open and transparent, whereas a leader in Japan might be seen to be trustworthy if he was loyal to his organization.

The book ‘Did the Pedestrian die’ is a fascinating insight into 10 years of research into cultural diversity and concludes that many values and traits are embedded within one’s culture. In the case of this news, perhaps Mr Kikukawa genuinely thought that by covering up the losses of his organization, he was doing the company a favour and not washing dirty linen in the public. Perhaps Mr Woodward felt that by challenging the board, he was doing them a favour by allowing them an opportunity to rectify the wrongs.

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