In a fascinating move, the investment firm that bought Olympus' camera business is about to buy electronics giant Toshiba as well.
Japan Industrial Partners (JIP) purchased the Olympus Imaging Division in January 2021, and continues to operate it under the name OM Digital Solutions. The firm has now announced a $14 billion (approximately £11 billion) offer to purchase Toshiba – which, among its many operations, continues to make industrial cameras and imaging technology (and, until 2019, was a distributor for Canon).
Toshiba hasn't made consumer cameras for some time; it ceased producing point-and-shoot cameras some 20 years ago, with Sony buying its image sensor business in 2015. However, it has fingers in many technology pies – including semiconductors, quantum storage, business displays, televisions, printing, digital solutions, railway solutions, energy and hybrid technology… as well as a very rich research & development ecosystem (including a highly respected research lab in Cambridge).
Intriguingly, Toshiba is a company that has been plagued by public scandal following very high-profile accounting fraud (which saw the prosecution of five senior executives, among them a pair of former company presidents). This is a similar situation to the tarnished reputation of Olympus, again following a public case of accountancy fraud, which led to it being purchased by JIP.
So what is the takeaway here, aside from the fact that JIP seems to love buying companies rocked by financial scandals?
Well, the main thing is that the best Olympus / OM System cameras probably won't benefit from Toshiba technology. This is not, after all, a merger; JIP is a firm that specializes in rescuing embattled or failing companies (among them carving out Sony's Vaio computer business), but it does not have a history of cross-pollinating them.
That said, given that Toshiba does have specialist imaging divisions, it's possible that these might be somehow merged with OM Digital – perhaps at the R&D phase, if nowhere else. It may also, conceivably, open up Toshiba's patent library if anything is relevant to the OM business.
Any cooperation between the two companies would be a boon for OM Digital; to have its consumer camera business shored up by the industrial camera business is sure to be a welcome development.
As far as who JIP might have its sights set on next… well, if Ricoh's imaging division (which includes Pentax) wasn't in such rude health, we'd say that would be a good candidate (though Ricoh's latest financial report noted that its "camera business remains strong").
Other than that, there aren't currently any obvious contenders – unless Nikon wanted to shift some of its imaging partners (though, like Ricoh, its latest financials are on the up).
Chairperson Akihiro Watanabe asked shareholders to back the proposal, saying it is the only option for Toshiba Corp. to return to its former strength.
"This move for Toshiba is great not only for Japan but also for the world," said Chairperson Akihiro Watanabe, according to an AP report. In asking shareholders to support the buyout, they noted it is the only chance Toshiba has to return to its former glory. "I have faith in the revival of Toshiba."
With the company's 150th anniversary on the horizon, it will be an interesting couple of years for Toshiba – and, perhaps, for OM Digital as well.