An era coming to an end for Toshiba, the electronics giant

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There was a time when more than one of your TVs, computers, speaker systems, or other essential electronic goods would have been made by Toshiba.

Once a poster boy for Japan’s dominance in electronics, known as Japan Inc., the company has delisted, ending a 74-year history with Tokyo’s stock exchange.

So why did one of Japan’s most famous industrial names have such a spectacular fall from grace?

It all started in 2015 when accounting malpractices across multiple divisions came to light, with many of them involving top management.

For seven years, Toshiba had overstated its profit by $1.59 billion (£1.25 billion).

In 2020, Toshiba found further accounting irregularities.

There were also allegations related to corporate governance and the way in which shareholder decisions were made.

An investigation in 2021 found that Toshiba had colluded with Japan’s trade ministry, which saw Toshiba as a strategic asset, to suppress the interests of foreign investors.

At the time, experts said this made foreign investors uncertain about investing in Japanese stocks, making it not just a Toshiba problem but an issue for Japan’s entire stock market.

In late 2016, Toshiba said it would take charge of several billion dollars related to the construction of a nuclear power plant that US unit Westinghouse Electric had bought a year earlier.

Three months later, Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy, leaving Toshiba facing a collapse of its nuclear business and more than $6 billion in liabilities.

It sold off a slew of businesses, including mobile phones, medical systems, and white goods.

Then it was forced to put its chip unit, Toshiba Memory, up for sale—a deal that was delayed for several months over a dispute with one of its partners.

At a time when companies were investing heavily in the future of technology and innovation, Toshiba was having to sell off a prized asset to raise cash.

Toshiba managed to secure a $5.4 billion cash injection at the end of 2017 from overseas investors, helping it avoid a forced delisting.

But that meant activist shareholders had more say in the direction of the company.

That led to protracted battles that paralysed the makers of batteries, chips, and nuclear and defence equipment.

After a great deal of back and forth over whether the company should split up into smaller companies, Toshiba set up a committee to explore whether it could be taken private.

In June 2022, Toshiba received eight buyout proposals.

Earlier this year, the company confirmed it would be taken over by a group of Japanese investors led by state-backed Japan Investment Corp. (JIC) for $14 billion.

It’s not clear how the new owners plan to turn around Toshiba, but its outgoing chairman has said high-margin digital services will be a focus.

JIP does have a track record of carving out businesses from big manufacturers, including Sony’s laptop division and Olympus’s camera unit.

After acquiring Sony’s Vaio laptop business in 2014, it helped the company achieve record sales this year.

But Toshiba is a much bigger company, and the stakes are high. Toshiba employs around 106,000 people, and some of its operations are seen as critical to national security.