Tadashi Ishii, the president and CEO of Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising company and the fifth-biggest advertising agency holding group in the world, is stepping down from his role after one of the firm’s young employees killed herself after working excessive hours.
Ishii said in a news conference on Wednesday he was resigning from his role to take responsibility for the work-related suicide and for failing to achieve a “dramatic reform of overwork,” The Financial Times reported. He has led the company since 2011.
Matsuri Takahashi, a 24-year-old Dentsu employee, died by suicide in December 2015, The Japan Times reported.
Japanese labor inspectors ruled in September that her death was caused by “karoshi,” a Japanese word meaning death by overwork. Karoshi is a serious issue in Japan’s grueling working culture – government figures from April suggest legal claims related to the phenomenon rose to a record high of 1,456 in the last financial year.
Lawyers for Takahashi’s family said that in the month starting October 9, nine months after she had joined the company, Takahashi had worked 105 hours of overtime and wrote emails to her mother and messages on social media outlining her difficult working life, according to The Financial Times and The Wall Street Journal.
“As a recently joined employee, she was working to her utmost but was being treated as any other employee. I don’t think that it is overstating the situation to describe it as ‘power harassment,'” Ishii said on Wednesday.
Dentsu released this statement after this story was first published: “Mr. Tadashi Ishii, Representative Director and President & CEO, has notified Dentsu on December 28, 2016 that he will resign as Representative Director and President & CEO at the conclusion of Dentsu’s board meeting to be held in January 2017.”
Ishii’s successor will be appointed during a board meeting in January 2017, according to the statement, which does not acknowledge the reason Ishii stood down.
The Financial Times notes that the press conference came on the same day government officials filed papers with the prosecutor’s office, which could see criminal charges brought against Dentsu and the manager Takahashi was reporting into at the time of her death. Dentsu’s headquarters in Tokyo were raided by the labor bureau in October in relation to Takahashi’s death.
In a separate statement, Dentsu said: “Today a case against Dentsu Inc. and one of its employees in Japan has been referred to the prosecutors office for alleged violations of the Labor Standards Act. We take this situation very seriously. We sincerely apologize to all concerned parties for causing this situation. We are now committed to use our utmost efforts to make actual improvements to the working environment and to effectively eradicate long working hours at our company.”
Earlier this month, Dentsu said it had updated some measures to improve its working culture. Changes included having mental health professionals on site at all times, prohibiting employees from working between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m., and switching off the office lights at 10 p.m.
The news of Ishii’s resignation also comes after Dentsu said the digital subsidiary in its home market had overbilled 111 advertisers, amounting to some 230 million Japanese yen (about $2 million) in fees. Takahashi had worked in that division, The Financial Times reported.
In an update on December 26, Dentsu said it would present its internal investigation on the overbilling matter “after the end of January 2017.” The company added that it had found no issues that would materially affect its financial results.