February 10, 2011 / 10:36 AM / 9 years ago

Japan's Olympus taps cost-cutting Briton as next CEO

* New Olympus CEO will join select band of non-Japanese CEOs

* Olympus revises down profit forecast below consensus

By Isabel Reynolds

TOKYO, Feb 10 (Reuters) - Japanese camera and endoscope maker Olympus Corp (7733.T) said its next chief executive officer would be British-born Michael Woodford, 50, who oversaw a restructuring of the firm’s European operations.

In what could signal an overhaul at the firm, which also revised down its profit outlook, Olympus said on Thursday that Woodford would take the helm on April 1, joining a select band of non-Japanese citizens to lead a major listed Japanese corporation.

Others include Howard Stringer, the Welsh-born CEO of Sony Corp (6758.T), Craig Naylor of Nippon Sheet Glass (5202.T) and Carlos Ghosn, the Lebanese-Brazilian president of Nissan Motor Co (7201.T).

Both Stringer and Ghosn carried out sweeping cost cuts to return their struggling businesses to profit, which analysts said was easier to achieve as outsiders.

Woodford said personnel changes and slashing back office costs had enabled him to turn Olympus’s European operations around and make $200 million in profit, nine years after he took them over at break-even.

But he said he would need the support of outgoing CEO Tsuyoshi Kikukawa, who will become the company’s chairman, to make similar changes in Japan.

“One thing I think Japan is known for is that it is very good at managing and protecting the status quo,” he told reporters.

“Change in Japan can be difficult to implement. It can be done, it will be done, but I need a Japanese ‘umbrella’,” he said, referring to Kikukawa.

Kikukawa’s advice to his successor was simple: Take up golf.

“I know he likes running and sailing and it’s fine for him to continue with those, but it’s really essential for Japanese executives to play golf,” he said.

Olympus on Thursday cut its operating profit forecast for the year ending in March by 9.4 percent to 48 billion yen ($582.8 million), as its digital camera business was hit by a strong yen and intensifying competition.

The revised forecast was below an average estimate of 49.6 billion yen in a poll of 14 analysts by Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. ($1=82.36 Yen) (Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Edmund Klamann)

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