TOKYO – Westinghouse Electric Co LLC fired its chairman two days before the U.S. nuclear engineering unit of Toshiba Corp <6502.T> filed for bankruptcy last week, as the Japanese firm tries to draw a line under the travails of a business that has cost it billions.
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Toshiba's spokesman said Westinghouse chairman Danny Roderick was replaced by Mamoru Hatazawa, chief of Toshiba's nuclear division, on March 27, two days before the Chapter 11 filing. Hatazawa's role would be temporary, he added.
Roderick, described by industry and company insiders as more salesman than engineer, was the driving force behind Toshiba's nuclear ambitions.
Toshiba said the executive change, only second at senior level reported since the Westinghouse crisis began to unfold in December, was intended to reassure clients in advance of the bankruptcy filing.
It declined to say whether Roderick remained with Westinghouse.
Calls to Roderick from Reuters seeking comment went straight to voicemail.
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Roderick joined Pittsburgh-based Westinghouse as chief executive from a joint venture of General Electric Co and Hitachi Ltd <6501.T>. He took up his role in September 2012, a year after Japan's Fukushima disaster brought the global nuclear industry to its knees.
In 2016, he took the helm of Toshiba's entire energy business, as the group restructured following an accounting scandal in 2015.
He was moved back to managing just Westinghouse when Shigenori Shiga, a former Westinghouse boss, resigned as Toshiba's chairman earlier this year as the nuclear crisis grew.
In an interview with Reuters in 2015, Roderick said he was "pretty confident" in achieving Westinghouse's goal of winning orders to construct 64 nuclear reactors worldwide over the next 15 years. At the time, the industry was still struggling to recover from the impact of Fukushima.
But billions of dollars of cost overruns at four reactors under construction in the U.S. southeast pushed Westinghouse into bankruptcy and resulted in a near-crippling net loss of $9 billion at Toshiba.
At the heart of the meltdown was Westinghouse's troubled purchase of a U.S. nuclear power plant construction company from Chicago Bridge & Iron Co NV in late 2015, during Roderick's tenure.
Toshiba is investigating whether executives sought to influence accounting practices in connection with that deal.
The Toshiba spokesman declined to comment on whether Roderick's dismissal was related to the ongoing probe.
Toshiba has twice been forced to delay its October-December earnings report, in part to continue that investigation.
(Reporting by Makiko Yamazaki; Editing by Christopher Cushing)