The loneliness of the long-distance whistleblower

For Tube reading, I turned to Michael Woodford’s

, his account of his whistleblowing as President of Olympus on the huge fraud perpetrated by some of his colleagues. The blurb compares it to a thriller, and that’s no exaggeration.

To recap the story, he was made the first foreign President of the company he had worked his way up for 30 years. There had been only three foreigners before him to hold similar positions, so his appointment was high profile indeed. Soon after taking the job, he was alerted to reports of nefarious financial dealings published in a small investigative magazine. Woodford soon found the claims seemed to have some substance to them. Some of his senior Japanese colleagues tried to play them down, then freeze him out. Woodford instead went public.

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His account of the experience of being a whistleblower is convincing, and gripping. The book is very good on the psychological ups and downs – mainly downs – and on the strains the pressure imposed on his family and friends. The cost of such an act of individual courage is obviously enormous, all the more so as there were through this period hints, never proven, of Yakuza involvement (“Goldman Sachs with guns,” as they’re described here). The book also paints a persuasive and not at all flattering picture of Japanese business culture, at least in a hierarchical company of this kind – Woodford clearly loves the country despite all that happened. In the end, he was wholly vindicated.

It’s a very pacy read, well worth picking up for a flight or the beach.