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Dentsu CEO Tadashi Ishii to step down as overwork scandal rages on

The president and CEO of Dentsu has resigned.

Almost exactly a year after the suicide of a 24-year-old employee that helped shine a spotlight on what has been called a unforgiving culture of overwork, the president and CEO of advertising and PR firm Dentsu has resigned.

In a press conference in Tokyo on December 28, Tadashi Ishii reportedly said he was stepping down in order to “take responsibility as a manager for failing to fix the company’s notoriously punishing culture of overtime work,” which is believed to have prompted the suicide of Matsuri Takahashi last year.

In November, the agency created the Dentsu Working Environment Reforms Commission in response. Dentsu said the Commission seeks to “prevent repeated overwork issues” and will include business planning and a review of its personnel system and business flow.

“Despite having taken various measures, we have not achieved a dramatic reform of overwork,” Ishii reportedly said during the press conference announcing his resignation.

Reporting the resignation, the FT noted this makes Ishii the first Dentsu leader to resign ahead of schedule in at least 40 years – and also that the comments came hours after government officials filed paperwork that could prompt criminal charges against the parties responsible for Takahashi’s death.

Four Dentsu offices were raided by the Tokyo Labor Bureau in October. And while the company has said it is “co-operating fully” with the task force, the FT said critics call Dentsu’s attempts to address its culture of overwork “superficial.”

But Dentsu’s woes don’t end there. In October, the agency agreed to repay 230 million yen ($2.3m) after overcharging clients like Toyota.

It was not immediately clear who will take over following Ishii’s departure.

Updated

A statement from Ishii read:

"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."

Dentsu will name his successor at its next board meeting in January.

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Lisa Lacy

Lisa Lacy is a senior reporter for The Drum, covering digital and search marketing. Based in New York, she writes about how brands use technology to connect with consumers, particularly as innovations like voice search, digital assistants and the Internet of Things change consumers’ lives forever – not to mention the data these platforms increasingly collect and the security and privacy issues therein. She is a graduate of Columbia's School of Journalism. Her bucket list includes riding in the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile.

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