Extraordinary Circumstances:

The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower

The longer WorldCom Chief Audit Executive Cynthia Cooper stares at the entries in front of her, the more sinister they seem. But the CFO is badgering her to delay her team’s audit of the company’s books and directing others to block Cooper’s efforts. Still, something in the pit of her stomach tells her to keep digging. Cooper takes readers behind the scenes on a riveting, real-time journey as she and her team work at night and behind closed doors to expose the largest fraud in corporate history. Whom can they trust? Could she lose her job? Should she fear for her physical safety?In Extraordinary Circumstances, she recounts for the first time her journey from her close family upbringing in a small Mississippi town, to working motherhood and corporate success, to the pressures of becoming a whistleblower, to being named one of Time’s 2002 Persons of the Year. She also provides a rare insider’s glimpse into the spectacular rise and fall of WorldCom, a telecom titan, the darling of Wall Street, and a Cinderella story for Mississippi.

With remarkable candor, Cooper discusses her struggle to overcome these challenges, and how she has found healing through sharing the lessons learned with the next generation. This book reminds us all that ethical decision-making is not forged at the crossroads of major events but starts in childhood, “decision by decision and brick by brick.”

At a time when corporate dishonesty is dominating public attention, Extraordinary Circumstances makes it clear that the tone set at the top is critical to fostering an ethical environment in the work-place. Provocative, moving, and intensely personal, Extraordinary Circumstances is a wake-up call to corporate leaders and an intimate glimpse at a scandal that shook the business world.

 

  • Paperback: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (March 23, 2009)

https://www.amazon.com/Extraordinary-Circumstances-Journey-Corporate-Whistleblower/dp/0470443316

Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Review

“Outstanding! This page-turning account of the WorldCom fiasco reads like a suspense novel. I was on the edge of my seat to the last page. When pressure to meet market expectations collided with Cynthia Cooper’s ethical values, she made the brave decision to do the job she’d been entrusted to do as an auditor. We need more leaders like Cynthia. If the free enterprise system is to survive, companies need to take corporate values and ethics checks seriously. This book should be required reading for leaders everywhere.” ―Ken Blanchard, co-author of “The One Minute Manager”(R) and “Self Leadership and Leading at a Higher Level”

“Reading this book will help all business people prepare for their own Extraordinary Circumstances and give them the courage to act as Cynthia did.””―Dennis R. Beresford; Former Chair of the Financial Accounting Standards Board, Former MCI Audit Committee Chair, Professor of Accounting at the University of GA”

“An excellent read! In “Extraordinary Circumstances,” Cynthia Cooper paints a picture of WorldCom’s journey down the slippery slope of corporate ethics. The message is uplifting and inspiring. This is a “must read” for those interested in establishing good governance and ethical values in their organization. This book will be required reading for our students.”―”Glenn E. Sumners, Director LSU Center for Internal Auditing”

“Extraordinary Circumstances is a terrific read.””―Joseph T. Wells, CFE, CPA, Founder and chairman Association of Certified Fraud Examiners”

.,.”with the publication of her new book, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of A Corporate Whistleblower,” we finally get an inside account of what really happened at WorldCom. It’s a powerful tale. Cooper’s story has been partially told before, most notably in the “Wall Street Journal” and in a report prepared for WorldCom’s board of directors. But her adventures at WorldCom come to life in this first-person account.” (“USA Today,” February 15, 2008)

“Readers of Cooper’s book, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower,” will find it easy to identify with both the employees who manipulated the telecommunications giant’s financial statements and those who caught them.” (“Reuters.com,” February 7, 2008)

.,.”it’s a fascinating study of the quantum changes in character that accompany the accumulation of unimaginable wealth as well as an uncomfortable reminder of how, faced with an ethical fork in the road, just how easy it is for some to take a wrong turn.” (“WebCPA.com,” February 2008)

“This is a heroic, often exciting tale of a person who, in the course of doing her job, stumbles on a big lie and pushes on to get to the bottom of it.” (“CFO.com”; 1/25/08)

“Extraordinary Circumstances details the struggle to get management to take internal audit seriously. The story of the investigation comes to life through Cynthia’s words. I found myself drawn into the story. Congratulations, Cynthia, on a successful first book. And many thanks for being willing to stand up to the truth and fight to expose the WorldCom fraud.” (“bloggingstocks.com,” 4/3/08)

“Cooper’s story is personal and interesting…it’s a cautionary tale for corporate executives. The book is an interesting story of how Cooper ended up as a major player in a very important business story.” (“TexaxLawyer.com,” 3/31/08)

“Extraordinary Circumstances is a must read for anyone who wants to understand the dynamics of an accounting fraud. It tells the story of how that fraud was uncovered and of the ugly manipulation and deceit she encountered along the way.” (“Bloomberg.com,” 2/28/08)

.,.”blow-by-blow detail is what makes Cooper’s “Extraordinary Circumstances” well worth reading. Cooper’s willingness to reveal her innermost thoughts as she dug makes for gripping reading.” (“BusinessWeek,” February 25, 2008)

.,.”with the publication of her new book, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of A Corporate Whistleblower,” we finally get an inside account of what really happened at WorldCom. It’s a powerful tale. Cooper’s story has been partially told before, most notably in the “Wall Street Journal” and in a report prepared for WorldCom’s board of directors. But her adventures at WorldCom come to life in this first-person account.” (“USA Today,” February 15, 2008)

“Readers of Cooper’s book, “Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower,” will findit easy to identify with both the employees who manipulated the telecommunications giant’s financial statements and those who caught them.” (“Reuters.com,” February 7, 2008)

.,.”it’s a fascinating study of the quantum changes in character that accompany the accumulation of unimaginable wealth as well as an uncomfortable reminder of how, faced with an ethical fork in the road, just how easy it is for some to take a wrong turn.” (“WebCPA.com,” February 2008)

“This is a heroic, often exciting tale of a person who, in the course of doing her job, stumbles on a big lie and pushes on to get to the bottom of it.” (“CFO.com”; 1/25/08)

Amazon Reviews:

reflecting human emotion and painful repercussions for decisions initially made that cascaded into escalating …

Enjoyable recounting of the demise of WorldCom. The writing of Cynthia Cooper was on a personal level, reflecting human emotion and painful repercussions for decisions initially made that cascaded into escalating depths of dishonesty. It did not seem conclusive that Bernie Ebbers was intertwined in to fraud, but the person at the top or in charge is saddled with the consequences of others, including subordinates. Somehow the story of the fall of Enron had greater misdeeds compared with WorldCom. There was not a sense of self-righteousness in Cynthia Cooper’s rendering of the demise of the company, but a sadness for those charged with the fraud. A reminder of the capacity for wrong doing that exists in seemingly well intentioned people in circumstances such as a publicly traded company to maintain earnings.

Lived through this

The angst, second guessing, depression, disbelief, guilt. I can attest to the emotions Ms. Cooper expressed in this book because I lived through this as an Internal Audit director. Her faith, strong family support, are very similar to mine and like her, it is what gave me the strength to expose and report on the fraud in my company. It is so funny when I read the comment about vitamins because my doctor told me the same thing. The non-support of her department, management directive to not give Internal Audit documents and other roadblocks, are eerily familiar. At least they did not fire her for doing her job.

I did not find this book boring in the least, I read it in 2 days which is very good for me. I can see how people that are the breadwinners and fearful of losing their jobs can compromise themselves. Not right, but understandable. This should be supplemental reading in high school because it is an easy read and will give our future leaders an awareness the pressure to hit numbers can put on people. It will hopefully let them see of the consequences (prison, destroy family lives and the pain loved ones go through because of their decisions). What Ms. Cooper and her staff did is not easy and I am so thankful for her backbone and for sharing her experience.

Outstanding book about moral courage

As a university professor and former auditor, I found Ms. Cooper’s book to be an outstanding book which will be required reading in my course. The book focuses on the personal challenges that auditors face on the job – and on the challenges all of us face in our everyday lives.

Finding a core set of principles to live by, and following those principles is not easy – especially when the people involved in wrong-doing are “friends” or business associates, while those affected by the wrong-doing are strangers.

I was impressed with her descriptions of her life experiences – that life isn’t fair – and that learning how to “get up off the mat” is more important than having the best plan.

I was also impressed with her descriptions of the various ways in which she tried to understand what was being communicated to her. The “listening” and “communication” skills she discusses, and the inner strength she demonstrated when the easiest course would have been to ignore the anomolies or to take the explanations for them at face-value, are the real take-aways from the book.

The accounting issues are pretty straight-forward – though, for non-accountants, she might have spent a little bit more time explaining “allowance” (for uncollectible accounts) and “prepaid capacity” accounts under accrual accounting. Further, she might have discussed briefly why the “matching” concept didn’t apply to the lease expenses (the right to use the lines couldn’t be stored and thus, the cost were period expenses, not capitalized assets). Nonethless, her book is a perfect fit with the Dot-Com Bubble HBS case – and serves as a great set-up for a discussion of the current sub-prime loan/credit-crunch that exists in the current economy. A life well-lived, and a book well-done.

 

 

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