Cynthia Cooper brought a corporate giant to its knees and now she's filling seats by telling her story.
Known internationally as the WorldCom whistleblower, Cooper and her team of internal auditors launched a 2002 investigation that uncovered $3.8 billion in fraud — the largest corporate fraud in history at that time. The journey she took in first finding the fraud, and then getting it out in the open is part of Cooper's presentation today (12 p.m. to 1 p.m.) in the Students' Union A & B ballrooms.
"It's an absolutely fascinating story about how she and her team became aware of the issue and the effort she had to go through to get anybody to pay attention," U of L Assistant Professor of Management Dr. Carla Carnaghan says. "She initially couldn't get the board of directors to pay attention, couldn't get more senior people in the hierarchy to pay attention and several people tried to tell her to stop looking. She really had to fight to bring this to light."
Carnaghan has seen Cooper speak in the past and says her story and its presentation is riveting.
"I think this appeals to anybody who's interested in ethics, who's interested in corporate-social responsibility or the issue of how one person can make a difference," Carnaghan says. "I think she's just a fantastic example of someone who worked hard to make a difference and worked hard to correct a wrong that she saw."
It was 2002 when World-Com, an American telecommunications behemoth was caught painting a false picture of financial growth and profitability to prop up the price of its stock. Cooper and her team of internal auditors brought the fraud (the company's total assets had been inflated by an approximate $11 billion) to light, resulting in a host of firings and resignations, the company filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the eventual conviction of WorldCom co-founder and chief executive officer Bernard Ebbers on fraud and conspiracy charges.
As Cooper speaks today, the world's financial picture is grim and business ethics are a key topic of conversation.
"There may well be other people who have to do similar things and step forward," Carnaghan says. "What she did took a lot of courage, and I think it's a wonderful human interest story."
Cooper, along with fellow corporate whistleblowers Sherron Watkins (Enron) and Coleen Rowley (FBI), was named one of Time's 2002 Persons of the Year.
"I've definitely encouraged all my students in accounting theory to go to this presentation," Carnaghan says. "I've mentioned it to all the faculty too because I just think it's an absolutely fascinating story."
Tickets for the Cynthia Cooper event, part of the CMA Alberta Leadership and Innovation Speaker Series, are free and available at the Career Resources Centre (B610).
GET THE FACTS
• Cooper currently serves as the Chairperson of the Louisiana State University Center for Internal Auditing Advisory Board and the Mississippi State University Executive Advisory Board
• A mother of two, Cooper was featured as one of 25 influential working mothers in the November 2004 issue of Working Mother
• Ebbers, the WorldCom co-founder and CEO, was born in Edmonton. He is currently serving a 25-year prison term for his role in the fraud and conspiracy
• WorldCom is now identified as MCI, Inc. Formerly known as LDDS and then LDDS WorldCom, it merged with MCI to form MCI WorldCom and then just WorldCom prior to filing for bankruptcy protection in 2002. It emerged from bankruptcy as MCI, Inc. and was purchased by Verizon Communications in 2006Dr