Former WorldCom Controller Shares His Story with Baylor University Business StudentsApril 22, 2009
By: Melissa Limmer
David Myers is a name that has become synonymous with fraud. However, for the students, professors and professionals who heard Myers speak at an event hosted by the accounting department on Friday, March 27th his name now may trigger a different idea.
Myers was a major part of what was in 2002 the largest fraud in history of U.S. At the time, Myers was the controller for WorldCom and plead guilty to three felony counts (he was charged with five) and was sentenced to a year and one day in prison. Prior to this conviction, the worse offense on his record was a traffic ticket. Myers spent 10 and a half months in prison, and was then released early for good behavior.
Now, in a self-described act of penance, Myers spends time speaking to groups about how he got himself into such a dark ethical and moral place (a place that landed him in the history books and prison) and how they can avoid this situation themselves.
"I will also be very candid, I am embarrassed beyond description," Myers said as he stood before the crowd. He recalled sitting in the same position as the students years ago when he attended the University of Mississippi. Myers admitted to the students that he would rather be in their shoes, with their whole life ahead of them. He pointed out that many students were probably thinking "that would never happen to me," regarding his fraudulent actions. He would have thought that too, he said, but it did happen, and that is why he came to share his story.
In fact, Myers upbringing was not so different than many Baylor students. He went to a Baptist Academy, grew up in the church, and his parents taught him right from wrong. And what he learned from this upbringing was central to his message to students. "I should have gone back to the morals and ethics my mother had taught me," he said.
Myers claimed that he did what he did because his boss told him to do it, he let his loyalty to the boss and the company override his own sense of right and wrong. He urged students to not let someone else's ethics and morality supersede their own.
During the time he worked at WorldCom, when the fraudulent reporting and book doctoring was taking place, Myers said he was "wracked with pain mentally," and considered suicide, going so far as to plan different options that would make his death look like an accident-hitting his head and drowning on a late night fishing trip, wrecking his car going 115 mph around a curve. After more consideration he decided this was the "coward's way out."
The guilt he felt then still wracks Myers today. "That (guilt) is the single hardest thing I have to deal with." He claimed he has still not forgiven himself, despite the forgiveness his family and close friends have shown him. He explained his inability to remove his guilt by simply stating, "I AM guilty."
Another warning Myers issued to students was that any bad decision can be rationalized. He rationalized his decisions by telling himself many people would lose their jobs, and the shareholders would lose their savings if he DIDN'T book incorrect entries. "I was so far down that slippery slope...I didn't even know I was on it," he said. "Make sure you understand something like this could happen to you."
He also advised that students should find someone they trust to talk to about any situation where they are uncomfortable, or are unsure what is the right or ethical decision. "Be mindful of what you are doing...keep the things you were taught as close to the surface as you can," he said.
Myers told students that he advises his own children, "life is made up of decisions, every decision has a consequence." He emphasized the importance of not just the big decisions students will be forced to make out in the professional world, but also the small decisions people make every day. "Everything you do is a step in your full body of work, you have to look at every action you take," he said.
Myers left an immediate impression on the students who heard his story. "It is a reminder that you are completely in control and grounded, but when you are put in a pressure situation you can do something you never though imaginable," Renee Hall, a junior entrepreneurship major, who was attending the event for her business law class said.
"It was very courageous," Andrea Duarte, a senior international business major, said of Myers speech, "that was one of the best lectures I have been to at the Business School."