“Extraordinary Circumstances” Stirs Debate in CPA Circles

WorldCom whistleblower tells all in good-girl-gone-bad-then-finds-the-light story, or "Blowing the Whistle on Cynthia Cooper"

extraordinarycircumstancesbycynthiacooperbookcvr.jpg The new book, "Extraordinary Circumstances" by Cynthia Cooper, a TIME magazine Woman of the Year who helped blow the whistle on Bernie Ebbers' WorldCom house of cards, is officially released today by Wiley. And it's already stirring a heated debated in the CPA universe.

Cooper was barely out of college when she went to work for Bernie Ebbers. She was young, naive and credulous -- exactly the wrong kind of person you'd want to see working in internal audit. Perhaps that's why Ebbers took a shine to her. So the real lesson is: Auditing is for grow-ups. Don't trust anyone under 30.

You'll learn more about the banality of evil than about clever accounting tricks. That alone makes it a good moral lesson. And a good read. Don't wait for the movie.

Tom selling at The Accounting Onion, delivers a mixed review. "The story I was expecting could have easily been told in about one hundred pages; even the chapter titles indicated that it would take me at least 200 pages to get where I thought I actually wanted to begin. But, as I was reading the book, impatient to get to the good stuff, I got hooked on the seeming mundaneness of how a smart but not brilliant, hardworking but not obsessed teenager, got hired and fired, married and divorced, have children, and marry again to a stay-at-home Dad. Much of this was skillfully interwoven with the history of WorldCom, along with the pathos of good corporate soldier accountants meeting their end, and the tragedy of the demigods of the telecommunications industry going to any extreme to avoid experiencing the consequences of their own fallibility"

Retired accounting professor Bob Jensen has resevations that "she seems to be exploiting this sad event year after year for her own personal gain as well as an ego trip." Still, he has called it "a great read."

Legendary FASB chairman Denny Beresford tells Jensen it's "a highly personal story of how Cynthia courageously blew the whistle on what became the world's largest accounting fraud. I've plugged the book to students, audit committees, and others who can learn from her difficulties and be better prepared if ever faced with an ethical challenge of their own. There have been very few true heroes of the accounting fiascoes of the early 2000's, but Cynthia is definitely one of them. Rather than disparaging her efforts to educate others about her experiences, I think we should all glorify one who clearly did the right thing at immense cost to her personally.

Edith Orenstein, at the fei financial reporting blog: "What’s great about this book is it’s not just for people who are trained in accounting, auditing or securities law, but is a parable for all professions and roles in life about when to ask questions and not walk away from something that doesn’t seem right."

Bill Carlino, editor at Accounting Today, remarks about the "ordinary folks, regular churchgoers with families and mortgages" who were simply doing their jobs.