A Whistleblower’s Role in Today’s World
Whistleblowing is is not an easy thing to do.
Corporate whistleblowers don’t just risk their livelihoods. They also risk their social connections — even, potentially, their lives.
Michael Woodford, former president and CEO of Olympus Corporation, was controversially fired after revealing widespread company fraud. Woodford recounts his experience and discusses the role and perception of whistleblowers today, in a Take 15 interview with Tony Tan, CFA.
“I believe in the capitalist system, but when you see so many boards of directors arguing, even resentful, that they have to ask for the shareholder approval of their remuneration, I think it shows how far we have to go,” Woodford says. “I think in the world of big business, people get confused about the company being their company, where it’s owned by shareholders and others . . . I think their moral compass and bearing gets lost somewhere in the process.”
Furthermore, Woodford takes issue with prizing the acquisition of wealth above all else. “Until we learn that there are values which are greater than simply the amount of money you can accumulate, I think we have some problems with moral capitalism, ethical capitalism,” he says.
As for his own experience as a whistleblower, Woodford highlights the difficulty of having to stand alone. “The people I’d worked with in America, in the United Kingdom, in Germany, colleagues I’d known for a long time, who helped me expose the fraud,” he recalls, “the day I was fired, the way they moved away from me and I became persona non grata [is] something which still haunts me.”
As for his advice to those in similar positions, Woodford says that averting your eyes is not the solution. “The problem for you is if you just turn the other way, you become complicit, you become part of the problem,” he explains.
Woodford does think the popular perception of whistleblowers is changing for the better. “Whistleblowers used to have a reputation for being difficult, awkward, telltales, snitches, collaborators — whatever word you want to use. I think now they are seen to be truth tellers.”
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All posts are the opinion of the author. As such, they should not be construed as investment advice, nor do the opinions expressed necessarily reflect the views of CFA Institute or the author’s employer.