Sometimes in life you find yourself in sticky situations where you have to decide what to do. Many times people are placed in these situations where their decision has an enormous impact on other people’s lives. Luckily, I have never been placed in a situation where what I decided to do impacted many people, or at least I’m not aware of such a situation.
Recently, I met, for just a mere moment a lady who changed the course of the company I work for. Our company was part of the big stock hype of the late nineties and biggest bankruptcy ever. We, the survivors, have been through the worst a company could go through internally and externally. When the company started falling in 2002, none of us ICs (Individual Contributors), as we call ourselves could have imagined the enormous fraud that occurred by what seems to be a small group of people. Fortunately, in this story there is a light of hope we can look to for inspiration. For you see, there is a person who didn’t falter when called upon.
This lady, turns out, had to choose between doing the Right Thing or keeping quiet. Either choice would surely, in anyone’s post analysis, 20/20 vision, cause an ensuing storm that would rock not only the company she worked for, but our society as a whole. I could not imagine being in her position. Looking back at what occurred after she made her decision; it is amazing that she even did anything.
For you see, Cynthia Cooper, had to decide between doing her job and telling the board of directors that there were accounting issues or keeping quiet which would allow the then CFO to continue with his inventive accounting practices. No matter what she did there would be no winners. Cynthia decided to inform the board of directors of the CFO’s inventive accounting practices. Once this became public, our company fell into bankruptcy, thousands of people lost their jobs, thousands of people lost their life savings and who knows what other bad events occurred as a result of this decision to do the Right Thing.
It is strange writing about this now, for when the accounting scandal started unfolding I never once thought of Cynthia. In my mind her name was only associated with the beginning of the scandal. As I walked up to a crowd at a recent company meeting, I noticed her name tag as she reached her hand out to shake my hand. I leaned in to shake her hand and said “You know, we, the small guys down at the bottom, know that what you did was hard. But we appreciate that what you did was the right thing to do. You made a difference and we appreciate your actions.” I wanted her to know that someone in the company realizes that she did the right thing no matter what the consequences. As we shook hands, surprisingly she put her arms around me and gave me the nicest hug. At that moment I felt like we had really connected and understood each other.
Our company is now heading out of bankruptcy, off our knees and out of the shadows of despair. We have a long way to travel before we stop worrying about the RIFs (reduction in work force) looming on the horizon. But, I can say that at least one of the highly-paid executives put the “Right Thing” above her personal interests. I feel encouraged that from the shadows of despair, the light of hope for humanity shines a little brighter because there is at least one person out there that does care and does the “Right Thing.”
Time Article on Cynthia Cooper