I’ve just finished Michael Woodford’s book about the Olympus scandal.
At times I forgot this was one man’s account of actual events, the ‘story’ flows like a fictional thriller. If you’re looking for something to read on holiday this summer, it’s now available in paperback.
There’s no doubt that throughout some of the events described Michael Woodford was genuinely scared for his own safety (and that of his family) and not without good reason. His bravery in blowing the whistle so publically has, quite rightly, been applauded.
But, aside from an enjoyable read what can we take from this book?
Clearly the individuals responsible should be held to account. Three former Olympus executives were given suspended prison sentences earlier this month. Whether that’s sufficient is arguable. It’s certainly consistent with previous Japanese court rulings in respect of corporate misdemeanours. Looking more widely, the failings of an overly-compliant Japanese culture in which it’s difficult to question those above, stand out.
However it would be complacent to think that something similar couldn’t happen elsewhere (just look at the recent reports about what’s been happening with GSK in China for instance).
We should also ask what lessons we could learn from this episode:
Let’s take the opportunity to reflect on our own responses to questioning and criticism, particularly from those supposedly ‘below’ us in the organisational hierarchy. Are we as approachable as we should be? Is our first reaction to any criticism one of personal self defence, or do we instead take time to explore the issues, find out what could be better and act upon it?
The book also tells us a little of Michael Woodford’s background. This may provide some pointers to the sources of his integrity and that’s certainly something worthy of careful consideration. For a man who isn’t religious Woodford has a strong moral compass. It’s one thing to know right from wrong, but another to care so deeply about it.
– Raised in a one-parent family, Woodford’s background certainly isn’t one of privilege.
– His career is largely that of a one-company man, an increasingly rare thing in today’s times. Despite being sacked by the company for ‘telling the truth’, Woodford has a deep ongoing concern for the Olympus employees.
– His work for good causes is longstanding and practical in nature.
– For a (former) CEO Woodford is refreshingly frank about his own limitations and weaknesses.
What are the sources of your personal integrity? How do you help the individuals in your organisation uphold and maintain theirs? I’d love to hear your thoughts.