M & A wrap: The man at war with Olympus

Michael Woodford asked too many questions. That’s the reason the 51-year-old Englishman gives for why he lost his job as the first-ever foreign-born CEO at Japanese camera maker Olympus a mere two weeks after he was given the role in early October.

Woodford tells Reuters investigative reporters Kirstin Ridley and Alexander Smith in a new special report that it was his inquiries into a series of questionable takeover deals and advisor payouts the company made over the past half decade, including the biggest mergers and acquisitions fee ever, that led to his ouster. Board members insist instead it was Woodford’s failure to grasp the company’s management style and Japanese culture that cost him the job, but Woodford says allegations of a “power grab” by him are not the “real story”. Now, Woodford is on a one-man campaign to “cleanse” Olympus with the goal of removing its entire board.

Giving in to pressure from many corners, Olympus on Tuesday named six men, including a former Japanese supreme court justice, to investigate the past M&A deals at the core of the scandal in a bid to stem an exodus of irate investors. The all-Japanese committee will look into $687 million in payments made to a financial adviser for the $2 billion purchase of British medical equipment maker Gyrus in 2008  and the acquisition of three companies in Japan that Olympus, under chairman Tsuyoshi Kikukawa’s decade-long reign at the company, later largely wrote off.

Who can get to market first? That’s the question some may be asking today after Lashou Group, China’s leading daily-deals website, filed for an initial public offering on the Nasdaq. The firm’s business model is similar to that of U.S. deals site Groupon, which is also currently in the process of filing its books for an IPO. Lashou plans to raise up to $100 million in the offering, most of which it plans to use for expanding its marketing efforts and delivery systems.

Meanwhile, Groupon has once again amended its prospectus just days before the company is expected to price its intitial public offering. As DealBook reports, the updated filing notes that the company had completed a 2-for-1 split of its voting common stock. The firm did not increase the price range of its offering from the current $16 to $18 a share, despite strong investor demand.

MF Global gets a taste of the Guv

MF Global’s new CEO would have had a far harder time slashing costs this way at his last job. As Governor of New Jersey, Jon Corzine faced huge budget deficits, an unwieldy management structure and stagnant income – arguably far worse conditions than exist at the futures and options trading brokerage he is running now.

While it might be nasty, if not cynical, to suggest he was happy about putting up to 15 percent of his workforce out on the street, he would have certainly enjoyed an immediately satisfying impact. “We are weeding out low-performing businesses,” he said on a conference call with investors, enjoying the power of voters being shareholders rather than employees. MF is also freezing new hiring, reducing compensation, and eliminating or postponing initiatives that are not central to the company’s direction.

MF Global could see net benefits of $59 million to $75 million, or 22 cents to 28 cents per share, from cost-cutting in 2011, according to an analyst note from Ticonderoga Securities. The stock was up by late morning, reversing a sharp early loss and defying the gravity of a sharp retreat in the overall market. Even if it took traders an hour or two to decide the decisive action outweighed surprising news of a first-quarter loss, at least he didn’t have to wait for a poll.