Former WorldCom executive-turned-whistleblower Cynthia Cooper challenged University of Southern Mississippi business students to “find their true north” during a campus lecture on Thursday, Sept. 8.
“When things are going wrong, everybody is pointing in different directions,” said Cooper, who helped unravel the WorldCom scandal in 2002. “The important thing is to set a moral compass for yourself and stick to it.”
Cooper, a Clinton, Miss. native, served as vice president of Internal Audit when the WorldCom implosion became global news. Through their own investigation, Cooper and her team of auditors exposed the $3.8 billion accounting fraud that led to WorldCom’s demise and a 25-year prison sentence for company founder Bernie Ebbers.
Time magazine selected Cooper as one of its Persons of the Year in 2002 and she ultimately authored a best-selling book titled, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whisleblower.”
Dr. Lance Nail, dean of the College of Business at Southern Miss, noted that Cooper’s appearance served to fortify the college’s continuing effort to emphasize the importance of ethical decision-making in business.
“Cynthia had the courage to do the right thing when it would have been easier to not do so,” said Nail. “This is a message that we want our students to hear loud and clear – unethical decisions may lead to short-term payoffs, but ethical decisions lead to long-term prosperity and peace of mind. Cynthia is living proof of the truth of that message.”
A standing-room-only crowd packed into one of the auditoriums at Joseph Greene Hall to hear Cooper’s fascinating story of FBI searches, media mania and employer intimidation. Business major Laura Hunt, a junior from Hattiesburg, Miss., said learning about ethics through real-world experiences enhances what she’s learned in the classroom.
“This is why it is such an honor to have Cynthia Cooper come share her story as the whistleblower for WorldCom,” said Hunt. “Learning from her experience enables us to enrich our education and have a firmer grip on the significance of ethical behavior.”
Dr. Michael Dugan, a Horne professor in the School of Accountancy at Southern Miss, served as an instructor and mentor to Cooper while she pursued a master’s degree at the University of Alabama. Dugan, who orchestrated Cooper’s lecture, lauded her courage and personal integrity in uncovering the WorldCom scandal.
“Cynthia is the perfect role model for our students to emulate in their ethical decision making behavior in their business careers and lives,” said Dugan.
Cooper, who still lives in Clinton, is the CEO of The CooperGroup, a firm that offers advisory and consulting services in the areas of ethics and compliance, risk management, fraud prevention and detection and internal audit.