November 30, 2005

WorldCom Whistle Blower Shares Lessons Learned in Courage and Integrity


Cynthia Cooper, whose whistle blowing at WorldCom landed her as Time's 2002 person of the year, spoke of her experience to more than 600 students, faculty and accounting practitioners in October. Cooper was the first speaker in the annual Distinguished Lecture Series, co-sponsored by TCU's Neeley School of Business and the University of Texas at Arlington.

Cooper spoke about her WorldCom experience on both a personal and professional level. She discussed her initial misgivings, but said she knew the path she must take against all odds. She emphasized that leadership is a privilege and a position of trust that should not be betrayed.

"It was a story of tremendous courage and integrity," said Dr. Bob Vigeland, chair of the accounting department at the Neeley School of Business.

Cooper now runs her own consulting firm and advises on corporate governance and ethics. Until July 2004, she was the chief audit executive at WorldCom, now MCI. She and her staff were instrumental in uncovering the accounting debacle that came to be recognized as the largest corporate fraud in history.

When an accounting executive told Cooper money was taken from wireless division reserves in order to boost WorldCom's income, Cooper and her team researched and discovered a major error in the audit books: In 2001, the company falsely categorized billions of dollars as capital expenditures, allowing WorldCom to turn a substantial loss into an incredible gain. Former WorldCom CEO Bernard Ebbers was convicted of securities fraud, conspiracy and filing false documents with regulators and sentenced to 25 years in prison.

Time called Cooper, along with Sherron Watkins, formerly of Enron, and ex-FBI lawyer Coleen Rowley, "three women of ordinary demeanor but exceptional guts and sense… Cynthia Cooper exploded the bubble that was WorldCom when she informed its board that the company had covered up $3.8 billion in losses through the prestidigitations of phony bookkeeping."

"We were honored to have Ms. Cooper visit the Metroplex to share her story with students, faculty and guests," said Vigeland. "Her presentation was an excellent beginning for the Distinguished Lecture Series."

Elaine Cole, External Relations, Neeley School of Business