She was one of three whistleblowers selected as Time Person of the Year 2002.
Cynthia Cooper, that is, who gained notoriety overnight as the whistleblower in the $11-billion WorldCom corporate fraud case that stunned a nation and led to the world’s largest bankruptcy and jail time for former CEO Bernie Ebbers and former CFO Scott Sullivan.
After nearly six years, Cooper shares her behind-the-scenes story of the dark days surrounding June 25, 2002, when the public first learned of the telecom giant’s financial deception. “Extraordinary Circumstances,” published by John Wiley & Sons, is due this week in major bookstores and online.
The Mississippi Business Journal chatted with Cooper in an exclusive interview.
Mississippi Business Journal: Why did you decide to write a book about the WorldCom fraud?
Cynthia Cooper: I felt compelled to share the story because I believe there are valuable lessons that can be gleaned and shared with the next generation. WorldCom was once the pride of my state, and many Mississippians, including members of my family, who lost all or portions of their retirement. I also felt that the people who suffered because of the fraud deserved to have this story told.
MBJ: How long have you been working on the book?
CC: For several years. I wrote it in an autobiographical style and present tense so the reader experiences these events in real time along with my team and me. In many ways, this book is a character study that goes behind the accounts and numbers to illuminate the human aspects of the story.
MBJ: What did you learn from this experience?
CC: Each of us faces ethical dilemmas in our lives every day — whether to tell the truth or tell a lie, fudge an expense report or tax return. I’m convinced that character isn’t forged at the crossroads of some major decision. Character is built brick by brick, decision by decision throughout our lives. Living these events has reminded me of the importance of making sure that I instill values in my own two children who are now 18 and six, and give them the tools to think through ethical dilemmas and make the right decisions.
MBJ: What has been the most challenging aspect of writing this book?
CC: Writing is extremely time-consuming and isolating. Reliving these events through writing was the most challenging aspect of working on the book. Innocent shareholders lost retirement and college savings. Many of my co-workers lost jobs. The people in the book weren’t just numbers to my team and me. We had worked with many of them for years. We knew their spouses and children.
Contact MBJ contributing writer Lynne W. Jeter at Lynne.Jeter@gmail.com.