Nozomu Sahashi, the ousted president of NOVA Corp., was getting into some bunnies a bit different to the stuffed toy symbol of the struggling English conversation school chain, Sunday Mainichi (11/18) says.
Sahashi, 56, had decked out a secret room attached to the President’s Office at NOVA headquarters in Osaka’s Naniwa-ku with a Jacuzzi, sauna and double bed in a room decorated every bit as gaudily as the tackiest of love hotels.
Receiver Toshiaki Higashibatake opened the room to the media to show the world just how much Sahashi was using the publicly traded NOVA as his own personal company, including using the chain to fund the 70 million yen it cost to set up his secret love nest, as well as the 2.7 million yen a month in rent that came with it. NOVA was also forced to foot the bill for a similar love palace for the ex-president in Tokyo, all the while failing to pay thousands of its employees’ wages and rent.
“Former President Sahashi started using this (Osaka) office from about 2002,” a NOVA spokesman tells Sunday Mainichi.
From about the same time, NOVA’s finances began taking a turn for the worse. By its settlement of accounts at the end of March this year, it was 3.1 billion yen in debt. NOVA owes 4 billion yen in unpaid wages and has already received payment from students in the vicinity of 40 billion yen for lessons it has not yet provided. Sahashi, though, has no such money worries. In 2005, he took home an annual salary of 300 million yen. And last year also pocketed a pay packet of 150 million yen.
Sahashi had a liking for bunnies that went beyond the NOVA bunny he created to become the symbol of the company.
“He’d take a gorgeous secretary with him every time he went to some big meeting or party. He used secretaries who had once been top nightclub hostesses in Tokyo’s Ginza and Osaka’s Kita. They were all gorgeous women, every bit as attractive as showbiz idols or models,” a former NOVA executive tells Sunday Mainichi. “He had his favorite foreign teachers and picked out several women for serious relationships; I suppose that’s what he used to use the secret room in the president’s office for.”
In the early days of NOVA, back in the first half of the 1980s, Sahashi was apparently notorious for housing his hostess lovers in dormitories he had set up for foreign teachers at his company’s schools.
“He broke a lot of hearts, of both Japanese and foreign women,” says a resident of the area where Sahashi’s lovers used to be shacked up. “He used to get sick of women pretty quickly and would soon find new love. We were always hearing him screaming out in lover’s tiffs.”
Despite his failings, some within Japan’s McEnglish industry acknowledge Sahashi had his successes.
“He was certainly an ideas man,” an industry insider says. “At a time when the market rate for classes was 10,000 yen a lesson, he was able to provide classes for under 2,000 yen a pop, which really drew in customers. He was also a big supporter of youngsters, having employed lots and lots of very young teachers.”
Sahashi also oversaw NOVA as it grew from being a tiny Osaka conversation school that grew to become a nationwide chain far larger than any of its competitors. The NOVA bunny, in its early days at least, also proved to be a tremendous financial success for the company because of its outstanding merchandising sales, and was another Sahashi creation.
But the Osaka Prefecture native son of school teachers also received plenty of help along the way. One of the prime reasons was indirect government backing through a national program to encourage working people to study.
“This program subsidized 80 percent of the cost for those who decided to attend an English conversation school,” a business journalist tells the respectable weekly. “In effect, this was our tax money. Which means that taxpayers’ hard-earned cash was ending up in Sahashi’s pockets.”
As the NOVA empire crumbled around him and his board let loose with the ax, Sahashi was rumored to have fled overseas to avoid possible prosecution or retribution, but it appears he is actually still in Japan.
“According to a lawyer for the former president, he is spending his time traveling back and forth between Tokyo and Osaka,” a NOVA spokesman tells Sunday Mainichi. “We have still yet to be able to talk directly with him.”