Toshiba’s future imperiled by shaky ethics, nuclear fiascos

Japanese technology giant Toshiba Corp.’s last-gasp strategy for staying afloat — selling its prized computer chip operations — may buy the company time but is no cure-all.

The 140-year-old Japanese energy and electronics colossus will be bereft of its most profitable and promising businesses and still entangled with the nuclear units that brought about its downfall.

Dogged by misfortune and mismanagement, Toshiba, whose roots date to the age of telegraphs and arc lamps in the 1880s, has warned of “substantial doubt about the company’s ability to continue as a going concern.”

In hindsight, the Tokyo-based company’s first big misstep was its 2006 purchase of the U.S. nuclear unit of Westinghouse, which filed for bankruptcy protection last month.

But a massive accounting scandal and accounts from former Toshiba employees suggest more pervasive problems within its management.

Threatened with delisting of its shares, Toshiba reported a 950 billion yen ($8.4 billion) net loss for the fiscal year ended March, although the results were released without its auditors’ approval.

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FROM TRIUMPH TO CATASTROPHE

Toshiba’s ascent paralleled Japan’s rise as an industrial power. One of its founders, Ichisuke Fujioka, the son of a samurai, brought the incandescent light bulb to Japan and forged an alliance with General Electric.

Toshiba developed Japan’s first radar and microwaves, electric rice cookers and laptop computers. It also invented flash memory, the ubiquitous computer chips that store and retain data for digital cameras, smartphones and all sorts of other gadgets and now are its most profitable business.

The company got into the nuclear business in the 1970s, decades before its $5.4 billion purchase of Westinghouse from British Nuclear Fuels Ltd.

At the time, the U.S. government was encouraging construction of reactors and China was embarking on a massive expansion of atomic energy, but analysts said Toshiba was paying too much.

“I’d like to…

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