#MizzouMade: Students learn ethical lessons from corporate whistleblower

Image: Cornell Hall

Mark Whitacre is an Ivy League Ph.D. and is considered the highest-ranked executive of a Fortune 500 company to become a whistleblower in the U.S. He was responsible for uncovering the ADM price-fixing scandal in the early 1990s. His undercover work with the FBI during the ADM scandal was the inspiration for the 2009 motion picture, "The Informant," starring Matt Damon as Mark Whitacre, and the 2010 Discovery Channel documentary "Undercover" archived on Mark Whitacre’s website, www.markwhitacre.com. The recent book, "Mark Whitacre Against all Odds,” describes the rest of the story about how faith has molded Mark's life since the ADM scandal. Drawing from his experience, Mark provides insight into corporate ethics, greed, and the warning signs of a flawed corporate leadership. He recently spoke with Trulaske College of Business students at the Orin Ethics Symposium.

Written by Nick Eovaldi, a junior in accountancy

“You will come across the gray area,” Mark Whitacre, the former executive of ADM, said to the students who attended the Orin Ethics Symposium. The gray area he referred to is the sea of loopholes in business and law, where there isn’t exact scripture as to what you can and can’t do in a given situation. This is where ethical decision-making comes into play. Whitacre described the three paradigms of unethical behavior as: short-term versus long-term, individual versus community and greed versus purpose. Having the opportunity to listen to Whitacre’s experiences and receive training makes us more prepared for the ethical dilemmas that we may face over the course of our careers.

The students I am surrounded by every day at the University of Missouri, especially those in the School of Accountancy, are brilliant and selfless individuals. When we enter the workforce, it will be up to us to use our voices to advocate for ethical decision-making and to speak up if we see something that is out of place. When we come across the gray area, let us address the situation and work together to create a culture of accountability and instill ethical practices across our lines of work.

Written by Jaylah Brooks, a senior in accountancy

One of the most impactful parts of Mark Whitacre’s speech was his explanation of selfish leadership versus servant leadership. As we become leaders in the world, I believe it is important to always keep others in mind. As we work our way up the corporate ladder, the goal should always be to elevate others and add value to their lives. Being a leader is never about yourself and as long as you remain humble, it should always guide you in the right direction.

Whitacre reminded me that it is important to always have accountability partners in my corner. Accountability partners help each other keep their values top-of-mind and ensure that they think clearly through each decision. Whitacre told us that it’s important to never make decisions in isolation — a powerful sentiment that reminded me that I am not in this alone, and that I am surrounded by a community of fellow Mizzou students and mentors who will always be there for me.