+Scott Watson

Monday, 9 January 2012

Would You Hire A Whistleblower?

We've had Enron, Worldcom, Parmalat and even the MP's expenses fiddle.  And, each of these scandals only came to light because someone chose to communicate the wrong-doings of their leaders to either the relevant authorities, or the general public at large.

The people who uncover a scandal or cover-up are commonly known as a 'whistleblower'. Someone who 'blows the whistle' or calls time on a certain behaviour, standard or communication.  And, whilst their decision to tell all may at first appear commendable, it can have consequences that are more severe, and perhaps unjust, for them than it can for the perpetrators of the crime.

Recently, the business news media has covered the story of Japanese manufacturer, Olympus.  A well-estblished, apparently well trusted organisation that fired its Chief Executive, Michael Woodford, apparently for blowing the whistle on alleged accounting fraud within the business.

Isn't this a turn up for the books?  When have we ever heard of a top leader willingly unveiling a history of corporate deception and fraud within their own business?  It's all about leading teams you can TRUST.  Reports in the UK media detail the accounting scandal to be in the region of £1.2 billion. Not a number to be scoffed at, but one that has been willingly overlooked, ignored or perhaps even covered up by the very leaders who are/were trusted to lead Olympus honestly.  What's more shocking is the fact that Olympus is a Japanese company.  A nation that prides itself on trust and integrity.

The fact that Michael Woodford has been removed from his post is perhaps a reflection of the standards and beliefs the institutional investors of Olympus have about transparency, honesty and integrity.  With, at present, many of the executives who oversaw the accounting issue still in place, where is there to go for its ousted CEO?

The reasons for his choosing to uncover the accounting fraud have yet to be reported.  Perhaps he saw it as the right thing to do.  Perhaps, he didn't want his name to be associated with such an outrageous policy, which appears to have been actively endorsed by members of its most senior leaders.  Whatever his reasons for outing Olympus, who will want to hire Michael Woodford next?

Will he become an independent consultant to government departments across  the globe to improve standards, transparency and accountability?  Or will a private equity company snap him up to oversee their public and investor relations team? After all, if there has to be somebody watching over your business/es, it may as well be someone who is happy and willing to uncover supposed dodgy dealings.

Good on Michael Woodford for bringing the fraudulent practices of his company to the world.  Don't we all need someone we can trust in our organisation?


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