Michael Woodford Speakeasy: Seven Secrets Every Whistleblower Needs to Know

December 4th, 2012

Seven Secrets Every Whistleblower Needs to Know

December 4, 2012, 2:00 PM ET

I was president and CEO of Olympus Corporation when the financial scandal broke last year, after I had exposed a massive fraud of approaching $2 billion which has subsequently become known as Japan’s Enron. Less than a month after I had been forced to leave the company, Olympus’s share price had dropped by a staggering 81.5% compared to the day before my dismissal. In monetary terms this represented a fall in market value of over $7 billion, and in witnessing the meltdown of this iconic Nikkei listed company the business world was aghast.

My new book, “Exposure: Inside the Olympus Scandal: How I Went From CEO to Whistleblower,” details this dark experience. It is very personal to me that the lessons from what happened in those difficult months of last year are shared as widely as possible.

My new life is now going around the world preaching about corporate governance and what can be learned from the Olympus scandal. This month, Harvard published a case study on the Olympus scandal and my role in it as a protagonist – this will be used to elucidate future MBA students, just what happens when accountability and governance controls break down completely.

I care passionately about the truth, and by sharing what happened to me, I hope it will make the business world a little more open and encourage individuals that if they see wrongdoing, they should challenge it.

For anyone who finds themselves in such a position there are seven critical steps which I believe if followed are more likely to lead to a successful outcome:

1.     Take your time to collect as many facts as you can and be as forensic in the process as you can – in making any allegations, the key issue will be evidence.

2.     Ensure that you obtain legal advice albeit from a family Solicitor, and ensure they have a dossier of all the material you assemble.

3.     When you have sufficient evidence, in the U.S. formally report any suspected wrongdoing to the state or federal authorities, and consider doing likewise in other jurisdictions. This action will ensure, for example in the U.S. and U.K., that you are protected by statutory whistleblower protection.

4.     Depending on the jurisdiction in which you find yourself, you may not fully trust the authorities and the only alternative is to find a journalist(s) whom you can trust. It is a given rule that, if requested, a journalist will protect their source. Furthermore, sometimes the investigative ability of media organizations can compare with, and in some circumstances be superior to law-enforcement or regulatory agencies. Respected media outlets won’t understandably publish or broadcast anything without some evidence, but the press are very much your friend and often it is only the bright light of publicity which ensures wrongdoing is eventually exposed.

5.     Becoming a whistleblower inevitably means you will be on your own, and prepare yourself psychologically for this. Colleagues you considered friends will often distance themselves from you but don’t let this affect your resolve. If you think you are right and have the evidence then you are doing nothing wrong – quite the reverse.

6.     Your family will be put under extreme emotional strain and this is painful to witness, but you must remain focused and determined – remember if you know of wrongdoing and then don’t report it, you become complicit and put yourself and your family at risk.

7.     Never lose sight of your own moral compass – you will receive a lot of opinions but ultimately trust your own judgement as in the end most of us know what is right and wrong.


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