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Who be ‘we’, Olympus?

The sale of the Olympus camera division to Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) may result in removing the ‘Olympus’ label from camera and lens products and, according to rumours, re-brand them as either OM-D and PEN cameras, or M.Zuiko lenses.

Setsuya Kataoka, Olympus Imaging Division VP of Global Strategy, believes the forthcoming 150-400mm f4.5 PRO lens (pictured) represents ‘a new chapter in our imaging business’.

While 43Rumors published this uncorroborated information, it was almost-but-not-quite confirmed by Olympus Imaging Division VP of Global Strategy, Setsuya Kataoka, during a bizarre  interview with DPreview.

‘The question of Olympus branding is still under consideration, but there’s no plan to stop using the Olympus brand immediately after the transfer,’ Kataoka said. ‘Camera naming, such as OM-D, PEN and Zuiko will continue to be used.’

He’s overwhelmingly, perhaps disingenuously positive about the bright future Olympus has in the hands of JIP, saying ‘I would like to stress that the sale of the Imaging Division does not mean that we will withdraw from the imaging business.’ He presumably said this with a straight face.

Who IS ‘We’?
It’s not at all clear who the entity is that he continually refers to in the interview as ‘we’. Is ‘we’ Olympus cameras transferred to JIP? Is ‘we’ Olympus starting up another camera business and keeping the Olympus name? (Good luck with that.) Will Olympus and JIP be ‘we’ via some kind of joint venture? Is ‘we’ Setsuya Kataoka in a new role at JIP?

Or is he claiming that after Olympus has off-loaded the camera business, the employees, its obligations to those employees, the camera-making infrastructure and its global marketing infrastructure, that it will still be ‘our’ imaging business’. Looks like it:

‘We will continue to offer unique and exciting products. Of course there will be some changes in management, and transformation of the organisational structure after the transfer, but these changes are to stabilise the business and strengthen the organisation and our operations. We think the transfer of the Imaging Division will have a positive effect on our imaging business.’

So we continue to be fed this ‘business as usual’ muck, presumably until the deal is done with JIP.

Don’t forget Olympus has had some major issues with the truth in recent times –  even if we exclude the infamous $2 billion Olympus scandal of 2011/12. Here’s a statement from November last year, a few short months before the JIP announcement: ‘For Imaging, however, we currently have no plans to sell the business. The task is therefore to stabilize and strengthen its market position. To achieve that, we are actively running marketing activities, and have already established a clear and exciting product roadmap for the coming months and years.’

– This was two weeks after CEO Yasuo Takeuchi said that the camera business um, well, wasn’t not for sale.  Or not as not for sale as it used to be, at least.

Kataoka promises production and warranty/service will remain the same. JIP is a ‘business investment fund, and their vision is to revitalise and grow businesses by supporting long-term business management’. However, as noted in our previous coverage, industry expert Thom Hogan at SansMirror, describes JIP as specialising in ‘curve out’ projects. ‘Basically this is code for “take over a business while stripping out any non-performing aspects.” It’s a way of getting around Japan’s employee laws, among other things. What’s likely to be left of Olympus Imaging if the deal goes through is something smaller than before.’

Under the direction of JIP, Olympus will – according to Kataoka – ‘focus on the high-end market more than ever’.

‘We believe that this transfer is the best step to preserve our technologies, our products, our services and the legacy of the Olympus brand. We are very confident that we’ll be able to continue to offer products that will satisfy our customers under the new arrangement. I don’t expect that anything will happen that will not be good for our users. In all of our conversations about the transfer, ‘user first’ has been the bottom line.’

Sadly, it appears that Olympus is not only losing its 84-year-old camera business – it also seems to have lost close contact with reality somewhere along the line: ‘I don’t expect that anything will happen that will not be good for our users,’ said Setsuya Kataoka. It’s hard to believe that he really believes that.

It’s clearly not a good thing for Olympus camera owners that the company has off-loaded the business. Having a lend of the global photographic community with this kind of nonsense is taking us for fools.

For a slightly more grim take on the acquisition, click here.


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