C is for Cynthia Cooper

I am the lucky one, because I call Cynthia Cooper a friend.  You may not know her, until I give you a little more information.  Cynthia and the team of auditors she led discovered and unraveled a massive fraud at telecom giant WorldCom, to date the largest corporate fraud in history.  She was one of three women featured on the cover of Time magazine – all three named as Persons of the Year in 2002.  It’s coming back to you now, isn’t it?

Cynthia wrote a book about her experiences – it’s called “Extraordinary Circumstances,” and I recommend it.  Don’t let the word “audit” frighten you; I know, I know, and it’s okay.  We write words.  We’re not really numbers people.  You don’t even have to understand the whole audit practice.  It’s Cynthia’s recounting of her journey that is the story, and I believe you’ll be moved by it.

Because Cynthia Cooper did the right thing, when doing the right thing was risky and dangerous, when it impacted not only herself but her family, her neighbors, her community.  A lot of people lost their jobs after the fraud was revealed.  Cynthia was threatened, ridiculed, and doubted.

In the epilogue of “Extraordinary Circumstances,” Cynthia wrote that “…this story is about human nature, about people and choices.”

Each one of us is faced with an ethical dilemma daily, in varying proportions, of course.  It doesn’t matter whether you’re at school, at work, with your friends, family, strangers.  You may be pressured into doing something you know isn’t right.  You may worry that not doing it will cost you your job.  As part of her book’s epilogue, Cynthia created “10 Steps to Sorting Through Tough Decisions and Making the Right Choices.”

“Extraordinary Circumstances”

I’m Already Amazing, Thank You

Last year I ended a 23-year career in state government to pursue writing full-time.  With my husband’s encouragement and support, I am working on my first novel and writing every day.  It’s wonderful to do something you really love, and neither he nor I regrets the decision I made to quit.

In November, I wondered if we could continue to live comfortably on just his income, and thought perhaps I should work part-time, just to have a little extra money (in November, thoughts turn to higher heating bills and Christmas expenses).  So I contacted a colleague who runs a temporary-placement agency and told him I was looking for some part-time work.  In my previous life I investigated white-collar crimes (and still hold the credential of a Certified Fraud Examiner).  I found the work very fulfilling, especially when it led to the prosecution of a fraudster.  But because I want to concentrate on my writing, I requested work that would be less intense.  Two weeks later, he called me with a position.  After describing the company and the nature of the assignment, I confirmed that it was part-time work (the office was located about twenty minutes from home, but you know, in Rhode Island that’s like a cross-country trip).  Ah, he told me no, this was full-time work, so I declined.  Then he said he might have another position.  It wasn’t definite, and then, with a giggle (yes, he actually giggled), he said he wasn’t sure if I’d want to work there.  Engage radar.

“So, why did you laugh when you said that?” I asked.

“Um, well, it’s just that, coming from your background…”  and he asked me if I’d ever heard of a certain adult-entertainment chain of stores.

“I’m familiar with them, from the outside.”  More nervous laughter – from him, not me.  I waited.  He told me that the company did millions in business (no kidding) and that they really could use some help in human resources.  Not that I ever thought I’d be their pick for behind-the-sales-counter.  He asked me to think about it.

And I did think about it.  I thought about how I would tell my husband, my sisters, my father-in-law, my friends, my law-enforcement colleagues, my dear priest friend, how I could tell them all about my new part-time job.  Or would I be so ashamed that I wouldn’t tell anyone except my husband?  I may have spent a lot of years not loving some of the jobs I’ve held, but I’ve never ever been ashamed of them.

Look, I’m not saying they’re doing anything illegal.  The adult-entertainment industry rakes in over $12 billion a year (that was in 2007).  Porn is big business.  Some organizations have underworld ties.  Some, not all.

So it was a personal decision.  And this one was amazingly easy.