Ex-Olympus CEO says has extensive backing for comeback

LONDON Wed Dec 7, 2011 9:29pm IST

Former Olympus Chief Executive Michael Woodford speaks during an interview with Reuters in New York November 30, 2011. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/Files

Former Olympus Chief Executive Michael Woodford speaks during an interview with Reuters in New York November 30, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Brendan McDermid/Files

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LONDON (Reuters) - Michael Woodford, the CEO-turned whistleblower of Olympus Corp., said he would finalise an alternative slate of board candidates in the next two weeks as part of his quest to re-take the helm of the disgraced Japanese company.

"I am actively pursuing people who I am confident will join," he told Reuters in an interview -- although he added the names on his list might change, depending on whether the camera and medical equipment maker avoids a delisting next week.

Woodford, who was fired on October 14 for questioning shady deals worth at least $1.7 billion currently being investigated by an international posse of prosecutors and local police, declined to be drawn on the percentage of investors backing him.

But he said his support was "extensive and substantial".

"I have substantive support and specialist advice from a number of sources...I've got lawyers and the best (financial) advice on this." But he said he didn't want to name names because much of the work was being offered on a pro bono basis.

Woodford, who cut his teeth at Olympus over 30 years ago and became a rare foreigner to rise to the ranks of both president and CEO, said he had no doubt that he was the best person to be re-take the chief executive seat.

"I know the business, I was managing the business, I understand the business, I know the people in the business, I have a track record of delivering so I don't have any doubts I would be the best person.

"I know what Olympus needs to do to be radically more profitable and successful," he added, noting he would hang on to the company's improving camera business.

As for the non-core assets snapped up by the company over the last 13 years, partly to help hide huge investments losses, he said only that employees needed to be treated with respect and sensitivity.

Olympus management on Wednesday bowed to shareholder demands for an extraordinary meeting in late February at the earliest, adding it was prepared to resign en masse after a company-appointed independent panel condemned managers for being "rotten to the core".

In the meantime, the company said it was expecting to pick its own team of potential successors -- squaring up to a rival board mooted by Woodford.

"I'm working on that with shareholders and other parties," Woodford said. "I am confident I'll have a very credible slate to propose...(which) will have to be ready in the next couple of weeks, as that is the notice period," he said.

He declined to name any candidates, saying only: "I generally think representation of major shareholders on boards is not a bad thing. It's quite healthy."

(Reporting by Kirstin Ridley. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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