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Denied Seat, Pickens Asks If It's Because He's 'Not Japanese'

June 29, 1989|From Times Wire Services

TOKYO — Tough-talking Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens attacked Japan's corporate culture at Koito Manufacturing's annual meeting today, but his call for three seats on the company's board of directors was rejected.

Despite warning of increasing U.S. anger at Japan's closed corporate world, Pickens failed to win the seats on the board of the auto parts maker in which he is the biggest shareholder at 20.2%.

Among about 200 shareholders at the meeting, Pickens was the only one who raised his hand in favor of his motion to include himself and two vice presidents of his Texas-based Boone Co. on Koito's 20-member board of directors.

"Do you treat all owners this way?" the maverick corporate raider asked Koito management. "Or is it just American shareholders?"

"You invest freely in my country, the United States, yet I invest in Japan and I am excluded," he told fellow shareholders in the three-hour meeting.

'Antiquated . . . Structure'

"I am beginning to wonder if the reason I have been denied a seat is that I am not Japanese," Pickens said before the vote.

"Japan's antiquated share-holding structure cannot survive for long," Pickens said at the meeting.

The shareholders present included Koito employees loyal to the company and racketeers known as sokaiya who generally took Pickens' side in their questioning and heckled Koito executives. In the end, however, they voted against Pickens.

The sokaiya, often speaking in the rough cadences of yakuza, or gangsters, echoed Pickens in demanding greater shareholders' rights and in scolding Koito management for not thinking of Japan's international responsibilities.

They drew frequent laughter from the large contingent of Japanese reporters watching on a television monitor in a nearby room.

Pickens said after the meeting that he would testify before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee on July 11 about his difficulties in breaking into the Japanese investment market.

Pickens registered March 31 as the company's largest shareholder with the 20.2% stake in the company that he bought from Kitaro Watanabe, a well-known Tokyo speculator.

He has refused to tell the company whether he has an agreement to sell the shares back to Watanabe, a move market analysts in Tokyo say could allow Pickens to make a profit while protecting him from the risk of declining share prices.

After the shareholders' meeting, Pickens again refused to answer reporters' questions about his relationship with Watanabe.

"I don't see any reason to explain to you or anybody where I got the money to buy the shares or how I bought them," he said.

Pickens has denied that his intention in buying a stake in Koito is "greenmail"--purchasing shares and then forcing their repurchase at a higher price.

"I will continue to press forward until we are accorded our full rights," Pickens declared at a packed news conference after the meeting.

"One thing is certain. Boone Company is here to stay, and we will be back next year."

Pickens denied that his purchase was linked to gaining publicity before a possible run for the Texas governorship next year and that he already has plans to dump his shares for a profit.

"I have considered running for governor for three years, and this has nothing to do with my involvement with Koito," he said.

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