Olympus today announced it sells its camera business to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP). Olympus — once one of the biggest camera brands in the world — will now focus on supplying industrial and medical imaging equipment. Although the company said it had improved cost structure, worked on high-profit cameras and took steps to "cope with the extremely complicated digital camera market," it reported three consecutive fiscal years of operating losses.
In 1936, Olympus made its first camera, the Semi-Olympus I. The costly accordion-line camera started off Olympus' camera business. In 1996, it launched the first digital camera, and established the interchangeable lens system Micro Four Thirds trademark. Smartphones have therefore eroded the need for mirrorless cameras. In 2011, Olympus, while being one of the largest companies by market share at the time, has also been involved in a $1.7 billion accounting scandal.
"We're asking for your patience: we believe this is the right step to preserve the legacy of our brand, the products and the value of our technology," explained the company on Facebook. "Olympus sees this potential transfer as an opportunity to enable our imagery business to grow and delight both long-term and new photography enthusiasts." Meanwhile, JIP has revealed plans to streamline the business, as it has done with Sony's VAIO PC. This will make cameras "more lightweight, more powerful and more agile."
The Olympus scandal
The Olympus scandal has precipitated on 14 October 2011 when British-born Michael Woodford was suddenly ousted as Chief Executive Officer of Olympus Corporation. He had been president of the company for six months, and two weeks before he had been promoted to chief executive when, according to The Wall Street Journal, he exposed "one of the largest and longest-running loss-hiding arrangements in Japanese corporate history". The chairman of the board, Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who appointed Woodford to these positions, again assumed the title of CEO and president. The incident raised questions about the tobashi schemes' resilience, and the quality of Japanese corporate governance.
Apparently irregular acquisition payments had resulted in very significant asset impairment charges in the company's accounts, and this was exposed in an article in the Japanese financial magazine FACTA and came to the attention of Woodford. Japanese press speculated on Yakuza (Japanese organized crime syndicates) connection. Olympus defended themselves against charges of corruption.
*Fashion designers Thierry Mugler and Hedi Slimane, both also talented photographers, have been using Olympus equipment throughout their careers.