A Japanese government advisor threatened Harvard Management Company with a regulatory probe if Harvard did not cast a critical vote in support of Toshiba’s management at the company’s annual shareholders meeting last July, Reuters reported last month.
Hiromichi “Hiro” Mizuno, then a special advisor to Japan’s Ministry of Economy, Trade, and Industry, allegedly made the comments on a call with HMC CEO N.P. “Narv” Narvekar, according to the Reuters report.
Toshiba’s leadership has been the subject of intense scrutiny since 2017 when it sold $5.6 billion worth of stock to dozens of hedge fund shareholders in response to financial problems with its nuclear energy projects in the U.S.
HMC, which owns approximately four percent of Toshiba’s shares, abstained from the vote as a result of Mizuno’s remarks, but later learned there was no basis for a probe. Toshiba Chief Executive Nobuaki Kurumatani retained his position following the vote with 57 percent of shareholders’ support.
Mizuno is the former investment chief of Japan’s state pension fund and a current board member at Tesla. He resigned from METI in December 2020, following his appointment as United Nations Special Envoy on Innovative Finance and Sustainable Investments.
After the Reuters report was published, Mizuno denied the allegations on Twitter.
“I am a METI adviser and a Harvard senior fellow and have a long relationship of trust with the endowment fund and as such, I am sometimes called on for consulting,” Mizuno wrote, according to a translation by Reuters. “However, it is extremely regrettable that this article, which is based on testimony from anonymous sources, is written as if the CEO/CIO was threatened by me on behalf of METI over the exercise of voting rights.”
Mizuno — who is an Executive Fellow at Harvard Business School for the 2020-21 academic year — did not respond to a request for comment.
Nevertheless, experts said that Mizuno’s resume makes him an influential figure in Japan’s business community.
Ryoma Nikaido, a reporter with the business magazine Weekly Toyo Keizai, wrote in an email that Mizuno has a close relationship to the Japanese government.
“It is certain that he is trusted by the Japanese government,” Nikaido wrote. “Government officials say there are few people in Japan more than Mr. Mizuno who can speak English fluently and have an influence.”
Christina L. Davis, a Harvard government professor who directs the University’s Program on U.S.-Japan Relations, said that Mizuno’s term as chief of the country’s pension fund is a strong indicator of his business policy influence.
“He would have close connections to people in the Ministry of Finance, people in the Abe administration,” Davis said. “He is definitely a very influential individual, and I’m sure that his efforts to share information would be taken as a credible signal.”
HMC spokesperson Patrick S. McKiernan, declined to comment, citing HMC’s policy not to comment on individual investments.
—Staff Writer Virginia L. Ma can be reached at email@example.com.