Cynthia Cooper, author of 2007 book Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower, spoke on campus this week, offering her personal insights on ethics in business. In 2001, Cooper discovered and reported that her company, WorldCom, had used phony bookkeeping to hide billions of dollars in losses, what was then the largest fraud in corporate history. The following year she and two other whistleblowers were named Time magazine’s 2002 Persons of the Year for their courageous actions.
In her talks Tuesday night and Wednesday morning at Belmont, Cooper addressed “WorldCom: What Went Wrong and What Lessons Can We Learn?,” noting that misguided loyalty, pressure from supervisors and fear of losing a job are a few of the many factors that can lead regular citizens to participate in fraud. In fact, several of the people involved in the cover-up at WorldCom were individuals Cooper knew well and respected, people who later said that once the first false accounting entry was made, it was difficult to stop.
“We need to know what we stand for–there is a true north,” Cooper said. “[WorldCom] is really a story about people and choices… Every one of us has a tremendous opportunity, a tremendous obligation, to instill values.”
Cooper serves now as the chairperson of the Louisiana State University Center for Internal Auditing Advisory Board and speaks frequently across the country to students and professionals on ethical and moral leadership.