Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower
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White linen tablecloths blow in the warm breeze of the evening. Some twenty people have come together at the home of David Myers, the WorldCom Controller. The atmosphere is full of good-hearted banter, but an unseen cloud hangs over this seemingly perfect picture. Within two years, almost every employee present will be gone from the company. Three will be indicted for fraud, and I will be thrust into the center of a storm. Why are the subpoenas locked in another room? Do I really want to go to New York and sit down with someone who's being hostile and patronizing? If I don't, will the U.S. Marshals really come to my house tonight and take me into custody? I've received no clear answers, but I refuse to take any chances. The guard unlocks the doors, and we file in. Brown cardboard boxes are everywhere, each labeled with the name of a former WorldCom executive. It feels like we're trespassing. I read the names of people I used to work with as we slowly walk through, as if in a graveyard, reading the dates of life and death on the headstones. I think of retirements, camaraderie, years of hard work by thousands--lost. What was once an inspiration has vanished into the ether. This is a story about people and choices. It shows how power and money can change people, and how easy it is to rationalize, give in to fear, and cave under pressure and intimidation from superiors. We can't protect our children from adversity or even predict the challenges they'll face. But we can prepare them for how to respond. As I share the story with students, I talk about character, choices, and courage. In the end, life is about choices. Our challenge is to choose well.