TOKYO — The chairman of one of Japan's top mass media conglomerates announced his resignation Wednesday, the latest development in a corporate shake-up that has stunned Japan and provided a rare public glimpse of housecleaning at a major Japanese corporation.
Hiroaki Shikanai said Wednesday that he was resigning all of his posts with Fuji-Sankei Group, the mass media conglomerate that paid former President Ronald Reagan $2 million to visit Japan in 1989.
The move came a day after Shikanai was fired as head of the conglomerate's flagship publication, Sankei Shimbun, Japan's fifth-largest newspaper, after the company president called him incompetent.
The ouster of Shikanai has stunned the nation in part because it is so rare for such an action to be played out so prominently in the public eye. Normally, Japanese corporations take great pains to keep boardroom disputes hidden.
A major issue in Shikanai's firing was his approval of a $13.6-million retirement payment to his widowed mother-in-law--an action that apparently angered and shocked other company officials.
Shikanai--a 47-year-old former banker who joined Fuji-Sankei after he married the daughter of the late Nobutaka Shikanai, the firm's then-chairman--insisted that he had consulted with the presidents of Fuji-Sankei group companies before approving the retirement payment, "so as not to force my mother to scrimp."
He called his surprise removal by the board of Sankei, a newspaper that publishes 3 million copies a day in morning and evening editions, as being "illegal" and "one-sided."
The positions he quit on Wednesday included chairman of the 100-company conglomerate with 12,000 employees; chairman of Fuji TV, the nation's largest network in terms of income, and chairman of Nippon Broadcasting, a radio network. His resignation came shortly before the directors of both broadcasting companies were to hold meetings.
On Tuesday, Sankei President Shigeaki Hazama announced that the newspaper company's board had ousted Shikanai in an unscheduled vote because he "used the company as his own personal property."
"To represent a newspaper company, a special level of qualifications is required. Shikanai lacks those qualifications," Hazama declared. "This resolution is the result of the kind of housecleaning that mass media should carry out."
He pledged to "oppose resolutely" any future attempt to use the company for personal profit and to carry out personnel decisions fairly. Hazama then did not elaborate.
Shikanai refused to answer any questions after he announced his resignations Wednesday. But he declared that he has done nothing wrong "legally or socially" and complained that the newspaper's directors offered no reason for firing him.
"However, I had no intention of prolonging my service if I didn't have the support of the employees. I thought I had made that clear to executives of the group. The fact that we reached this point without communicating with each other is extremely regrettable," he said.
Shikanai--who left Industrial Bank of Japan to join the newspaper in June, 1988, assumed the post of chairman in 1989 and now owns 7.2% of Sankei's shares--said he was resigning to avoid "confusion" in the communications group.
Under Nobutaka Shikanai, the Sankei took some distinctive, conservative stands.
Fuji-Sankei invited Reagan and his wife, Nancy, to give a series of speeches to thank the former President for improving U.S.-Japan relations.