Former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford keen to return at the helm of troubled firm

With Michael Woodford, the former CEO of disgraced Japanese camera-maker Olympus Corp, launching a bid to replace the existing board and top management with his team, all eyes are on Japanese investors who have a 70-per cent stake in the company.

Woodford has quit as a director of Olympus and is now lobbying with international investors in the company to replace the existing management with his team. The Briton, who has been with the Japanese firm for 30 years, was sacked by the top management in October, days after he was promoted as CEO. This followed his raising questions about irregular payments of more than a billion dollars made by the firm to little-known entities as fees for overseas acquisitions, has just quit from the Olympus board.

The Japanese major admitted last month that it had made irregular payments to cover up losses from investors.

After returning to Tokyo late last month (See: Three top Olympus executives resign from board on eve of crucial meet) Woodford flew to New York where he met FBI investigators and briefed them on the biggest scam to have hit corporate Japan.

While denying he was planning to lead an overseas buyout of the troubled Japanese camera and endoscopy maker, Woodford admitted he had been approached by several parties to do so. ''I'm not trying to get involved to sell Olympus to an American healthcare group or an overseas healthcare group,'' he told reporters in New York. ''I wouldn't be part of that. I don't see that being feasible or attractive. I just want Olympus to have a board which is trusted and respected and get on with running the company. I am quite Japanese in that sense.''

The company is currently being led by Shuichi Takayama, the president, who has said he would continue to remain at the helm at least until the probes into the irregularities are over. Woodford has already spoken to international shareholders of Olympus, seeking to replace Takayama's team with his own. However, all depends on Japanese shareholders, including institutions, who have a control over the company.

Nippon Life, one of the biggest Japanese shareholders - which has reduced its stake to just 5.11 per cent - has said it would take a call once the investigations are completed.

But foreign investors such as Southeastern Asset Management - with a five per cent stake - are demanding the return of Woodford.