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Learning from Someone Else's Mistakes: David Myers Speaks to Baylor Accounting Students on Ethics

Sept. 22, 2010

By Nincy Mathew

David Myers, former controller of WorldCom, talked to almost 200 of Baylor University's accounting students about the importance of standing firm ethically when faced with decisions in the workforce.

Myers was involved in an 11 billion dollar accounting scandal in 2002, when WorldCom came under pressure to cover its declining profitability. He spent a year and a day in federal prison and now travels to different universities talking about his experiences.

"This is not something I'm proud to do. I do this because I hope I can help someone not go through what I went through, and that's the only reason," Myers said.

Dr. Bill Thomas, KPMG/Holton Chair, J.E. Bush Professor and Master Teacher, considers Myers' story to be necessary for all students.

"David Myers' story is timeless, because it contains all of the common threads woven into virtually every fraud since we began keeping records: pressure, opportunity, and rationalization," Thomas said. Students were also impressed with Myers.

"I admire his honesty and humility. It takes a lot of strength to relive those events," senior and accounting major, Alicia Beard said.

Myers emphasized to the students that prior to pleading guilty on three felonies; he had nothing more than a speeding ticket on his record.

"I didn't realize I was working for people I couldn't trust. They were lying to their investors, but I told myself it wasn't my lie," Myers said.

But when WorldCom's revenues began shrinking, Myers was backed against a wall. He used illegal accounting methods to mask WorldCom's declining state--according to his boss, Scott Sullivan's, orders.

"I allowed Scott, his morals and his ethics override mine. Everything I built in life, all the things my parents had told me, everything I entrusted in myself, I let him override that," Myers said.

Thomas hopes those who attended took away a powerful lesson.

"Everyone needs to realize how easy it is to start down the slippery slope that could lead to fraud, and how important it is in business not to forget the most basic of ethical teachings we have learned throughout our lives: honesty, fidelity, respect for authority; and taking the "high road" to obey a "higher law" when those in authority over us ask us to do dishonest things," Thomas said.

Students understood that they will be vulnerable to such dilemmas after graduation.

"These situations come up in business every day, even if not to the extent of WorldCom. It is important for all students to learn to do what is right in the small things, and to be ready to make hard decisions," Beard said.

Myers ended with this advice to the students: always take the high road even if it means quitting and to make cautious and ethical decisions.

"I'm not suggesting mental paralysis every time you have to make a decision," Myers said. "But when your antenna goes up, there's a reason for that." He also added that no one can take responsibility for anyone else's actions except his or her own. "And if someone claims that they can, run the other way."

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