Once in awhile, management and their auditors don’t see eye to eye on things. If semi-well adjusted adults are involved, usually cooler heads prevail and differences are sorted out. On the other hand, if there are egomaniacs or individuals of Irish descent involved, then things can sometimes go badly. Not badly in the physical sense, mind you. Badly in the sense that auditors usually get fired. When that happens it usually raises eyebrows of investors and people start asking all sorts of questions. Luckily, footnote disclosures usually detail the dispute and everyone moves on. That’s precisely what didn’t happen at Olympus:
In May 2009, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, the then president of the camera-maker and medical equipment firm, announced that the contract for its then auditor, KPMG, had ended and that another global accounting firm, Ernst & Young, would take over. Kikukawa made no mention of any row with KPMG, although Japanese disclosure rules require companies to notify investors of “any matters concerning the opinions” of an outgoing auditor. In a confidential internal document, Kikukawa wrote to executives in the United States and Europe, revealing that there had been a disagreement with KPMG which he did not plan to disclose to the stock market. “The release to be published today says that the reason of this termination is due simply to expiry of accounting auditors’ terms of office,” Kikukawa said in the letter dated May 25, 2009, which was written in English.
You may have recently heard that Olympus is in a bit of situation. They up and fired their new CEO after he was on the job for two weeks because he was asking a few too many questions. You see, Michael Woodford was of the opinion that the $687 million advisory fee the company was paying for to a firm assisting them with a purchase the company in the UK was a tad steep and wouldn’t keep [yapping motion with hands]. Mr. Kikukawa – who has a reputation as an ‘emperor‘ – didn’t care for that, so he and the Board of Directors told Woodford that his services were no longer needed, chalking it up to Woodford being a little too British.
Fast-forward to today’s news – The accounting issue in question – goodwill impairment – was related to the company, Gyrus Group Plc., Olympus purchased back in 2009. And who do you suppose gave Reuters the memo outlining the whole we’re-firing-KPMG-because-they-disagree-with-us-and-we’re-not-telling-anyone-about-it thing?
The confidential letter was given to Reuters by former Olympus CEO Michael Woodford who was ousted after just two weeks in the job on October 14 for what he says was his persistent questioning over the Gyrus advisory fee and other odd-looking acquisitions. Woodford says the letter was addressed to him in his role as head of Olympus Europe at the time and to Mark Gumz, then head of Olympus Corp America.
Apparently this is no big whoop as long as it’s not material and “the numbers add up” says an accounting professor who has ties to Olympus. Oh! In that case, I guess everyone should just move along.