AND so now it’s Toshiba Corp. Another giant brought to its knees from the ranks of Japan’s corporate behemoths that once ruled the world. Toshiba’s shares have lost about half their value since the company said last month it may face a writedown at its US nuclear power business, a piece of bad news that came on top of a recent accounting scandal at the company. The scale of the writedown has now ballooned to around US$6 billion, forcing Toshiba – which makes a smorgasbord of products from semiconductors and laptops to washing machines and power plants – to ask banks for aid and look at selling stakes in its chip business. Stop me if you’ve heard this before. Sharp Corp., once the global standard for liquid crystal displays, ran into financing problems and was sold off to Taiwan’s Foxconn last year for about US$3.6 billion, becoming the first of Japan’s major electronics makers to fall under foreign ownership. Japanese camera maker Olympus Corp. faced a lawsuit by banks seeking several hundred million dollars in damages after its share price collapsed amid, yes, accounting fraud. The list goes on, but you get the idea. Like most unravelings of these global conglomerates, the rot sets in and then it’s a slow, agonizing process of bringing it to light as the subject writhes in different stages of denial about the true state of its corporate affairs. The rude awakening for Toshiba was in February 2015 when the policemen, so to speak, came knocking on the boardroom door in the form of Japan’s securities regulator, which was decidedly unhappy with Toshiba’s accounting practises on infrastructure projects going back several years. In response Toshiba – regarded by some as the producer of the world’s first mass-market laptop computer – set up a special investigation unit, though notably the six-member team included four from Toshiba and it was headed by the company’s chairman Musashi Muromachi. The latter perhaps to indicate the company was taking the probe seriously, though not achieving what could be called an independent review of the books. This points to a thread running through the woes at many of these once bluest of Japanese blue chips: robust, independent corporate governance, or rather the lack of it. Japanese authorities tried to tackle this issue more than 10 years ago by making outside directors compulsory as part of corporate governance reforms aimed at bringing some other types of thinking into the boardrooms of Japan Inc, along with some checks and balances. Japan’s heavyweight business lobby group Keidanren turned its guns against that idea so it didn’t go anywhere. Then it caught the attention of the current government and in particular those steering Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s drive to reform the country’s economy through so-called Abenomics. Improving corporate governance at Japanese companies (the cynics say “introducing” rather than improving) is one of the policy planks in Abenomics that deal with what is called structural reform of the economy. For example, installing more outside directors onto the boards of Japan’s companies to hopefully bring less bias into how the institutions conduct their business, as well as the voices of individuals whose careers do not hinge on saying “yes, sir” to the CEO.