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.
Earlier this week David Callahan, author of bestseller The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead and of the new book The Moral Center: How Progressives Can Unite America around Our Shared Values, spoke to a packed house in the Maddox Grand Atrium on “The Cheating Culture: Ethics and Democracy.”
The Tennessean interviewed Callahan prior to his lecture. Click here to view an excerpt from that interview.
Callahan has had numerous articles published in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today. He has also been a frequent commentator on CNN, CBS, PBS, MSNBC and FOX News and has been a regular guest on radio talk shows across the United States. He lectures frequently about issues of ethics and integrity to universities, associations and businesses.
Callahan’s visit was sponsored by Belmont’s Center for Business Ethics, which seeks to bring people together in the discussion of business ethics, to help empower business leaders to face the current crisis in business ethics and to educate ethical business leaders for a better society. Upcoming events in the Center’s Ethics Leadership Speakers Series surrounding the 2008 Town Hall Presidential Debate include a Sept. 26 conversation with award-winning journalists John Seigenthaler and John Seigenthaler, Jr. on the topic “Ethics and the Presidential Election: Is the Media Helping or Hurting?,” an Oct. 21 presentation by author Cynthia Cooper on “Ethical Dilemmas: Power and Money” and a Nov. 6 lecture by economist Jonathan Wight on “The New Administration and the Economy: What Can We Expect?”
A Lutheran minister with a master’s degree from the London School of Economics, Rev. David Beckmann spoke on campus twice this past week, offering perspective on business and the poor as well as his life as a “missionary economist.” Beckmann will appear Fri., April 11 as a guest on “Bill Moyers Journal,” a weekly PBS program, to discuss how the 2002 U.S. Farm Bill impacts low-income families and poor farmers.
Rev. Beckmann, whose visit to Belmont was sponsored by the Office of Spiritual Development and the Center for Business Ethics, served for several years on the board of Bread for the World before becoming president of the organization in 1991. Bread for the World is a grass-roots, Christian citizens’ movement against hunger. Its 56,000 members and member churches urge the U.S. government to take actions to reduce hunger, both domestic and international. Rev. Beckmann is also president of Bread for the World Institute, which does research and education on hunger.
In Wednesday’s convocation lecture for students, Beckmann encouraged them to connect their faith and ethics to their future professions, whatever they might be. “You can go into business with a purpose, a moral purpose… If we think God is concerned about justice and poverty, then we need to weigh in on those issues.”
The Belmont University Center for Business Ethics hosted Walt Pavlo, president of Etika, LLC, Monday to give his presentation titled “Anatomy of a White Collar Crime.” Pavlo was convicted of multi-million dollar fraud, and after serving time in prison, founded Etika to enable him to share his message with others about how to avoid the mistakes he made in his work for MCI.
A standing-room-only crowd packed Neely Hall to hear Pavlo discuss how his bad choices and “a company culture that avoided ethics” led him to commit fraud. Pavlo and an editor who wrote a story about him in Forbes Magazine have just completed a book entitled Ring of Thieves, which will be published in early 2007. It will tell Pavlo’s story and provide insights he gained in his journey into and out of white collar crime.
Dr. Patrick Raines, Dean of the College of Business Administration, introduces Dr. Robert W. Fogel of the University of Chicago, a Nobel Prize-winning economist who spoke to a capacity crowd Wednesday at Belmont.