Toshiba Scandal Grew From Numbers ‘Too Embarrassing’ to Show

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Hisao Tanaka
Toshiba Corp. incoming Chairman, President and CEO Masashi Muromachi, left, outgoing President and CEO Hisao Tanaka, center, and Vice President Keizo Maeda bow during a news conference in Tokyo on July 21, 2015. Photographer: Akio Kon/Bloomberg

“Get it done like your life depends on it.”

That was the message former Toshiba Corp. President Atsutoshi Nishida delivered to underlings in 2008. And they got it done.

The shame of earnings considered “too embarrassing” to show publicly helped drive an accounting scandal at the Japanese industrial giant that led to the resignations of Nishida and his two successors Tuesday. Now the maker of nuclear reactors, memory chips and home appliances must correct at least $1.2 billion of earnings across more than six years.

One of the irregularities highlighted by independent investigators was Toshiba’s practice of selling personal-computer parts to Taiwanese contract manufacturers at a higher price than what Toshiba paid suppliers.

While that was initially to hide manufacturing costs from rivals, the company abused the practice to temporarily inflate profits, and the costs were repeatedly carried over into subsequent quarters, the committee said.

When the PC business was poised to report losses amid the global financial crisis in 2008, Nishida stepped up the pressure on subordinates to remain profitable with his decree, according to the investigators’ report released Tuesday.

Management Renewal

Toshiba’s unit presidents, business executives and accountants were under relentless pressure to achieve profit goals, or what were known internally as “challenges,” the report said.

“I was shocked by the fact that one of the leading companies organizationally conducted such a thing,” said Koichi Ueda, who led the investigating committee.

Improper practices continued under Norio Sasaki, who took over in 2009, and his successor, Hisao Tanaka, according to the report. All three men resigned from the 140-year-old pillar of Japan Inc.

“I have no recognition of directly ordering” inappropriate accounting, Tanaka said Tuesday.

The accounting irregularities were “skillfully” hidden from outside observers, and subordinates were unable to stand up to their superiors, according to the investigation.

No charges have been filed against Toshiba or executives. The company is taking the findings of the probe seriously and wants to regain the trust of stakeholders by creating a new company culture, it said in a statement Tuesday.

Nuclear Plants

Tanaka appeared before about 400 journalists and analysts Tuesday after his resignation was announced. Tanaka, Chairman Masashi Muromachi and Vice President Keizo Maeda bowed extensively to apologize.

“For the company to be rebuilt there needs to be a renewal of the management structure,” Tanaka said.

Muromachi will become interim president, and the company will announce a new management team in mid-August. Its 2014 fiscal year earnings will be released Aug. 31.

The accounting issues came to light in February when Japan’s Securities & Exchange Surveillance Commission investigated irregularities related to “percentage of completion” estimates used on power and infrastructure projects, including nuclear, hydroelectric, wind-power equipment, air-traffic control and railway systems.

Since a typical order was worth billions of yen, the business had a significant impact on Toshiba’s profit.

Toshiba is sold a $947 million stake in Finnish elevator and escalator maker Kone Oyj to bolster its balance sheet, the Tokyo-based company said Wednesday. The stake, which represents about 4.6 percent of the outstanding shares in the Helsinki-based company, generated a gain of about 113 billion yen ($913 million).

‘Every Means’

The company ran into trouble when expected cost reductions didn’t materialize or fluctuations in foreign exchange caused projects to lose money, the report said. Under pressure from the top brass, unit managers resisted booking loss provisions as required by accounting rules, it said.

On May 8, Toshiba withdrew its earnings forecasts, canceled the year-end dividend and widened the accounting probe to include the entire company, with about $2.8 billion of market value vanishing since. The company has now agreed to correct its earnings statements by an amount equal to about 27 percent of pretax profit posted for years since fiscal 2009.

The investigation found that Tanaka and Sasaki, who between them have led the company for the past six years, sought to delay booking losses, and employees were unable to go against management orders.

When the company’s unprofitable visual products segment came under particular stress, Tanaka delivered a blunt instruction to employees.

“I made a public promise to return the TV business to profit in the second half,” Tanaka said at a meeting in September 2013, the committee said. “Use every conceivable means to achieve profitability.”

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