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The Informant: FBI Whistleblower Mark Whitacre Explains What Went Wrong

dsc0063Earlier this month, Mark Whitacre gave a special presentation, “Why Good Leaders Lose Their Ways” at the John Cook School of Business sponsored by the Emerson Ethics Center.

Reported by Thomas J. Bussen, JD, MBA, VP IntegTree. Contact. Reposted with permission from IntegTree.com

There’s a reason Mark Whitacre has been the subject of two books, a documentary and a Hollywood film in which Matt Damon played Whitacre. His story of corruption, bravery, double dealing, then triple dealing, is unlike any story before or since. It is, as they say, a story that not even Hollywood could have dreamt.

Mark Whitacre is the man that turned on his employer, Archer Daniels Midland (ADM), revealing what would become the biggest price fixing case in American history. He did this by wearing a wire for the FBI for three years, every day.

And he did this while perpetrating his own fraud, stealing $9 million, right under the watchful eyes of the FBI. When confronted, Whitacre denied wrongdoing. He lost his immunity from prosecution, he lost his claim as an American hero and he served nearly 9 years in a Federal penitentiary.

By all appearances Whitacre is no longer the man he was 25 years ago with ADM. He tours the country, giving nearly 100 speeches a year to universities, corporations and church groups. But as Whitacre said, this is not the story of redemption or of a hero, this is the story of what not to do.

untitledDr. Nitish Singh (left) and Thomas Bussen (right) with Mark Whitacre, Phd (center)

In 1989, at age 32, Whitacre become the fourth highest ranking executive at Fortune 100 ADM. For the seven years Whitacre worked with ADM he averaged an annual compensation of $3 million.

Whitacre had his own jet – “the first ADM employees I met after I joined were my two pilots”. He had a mansion – “ten times bigger than we needed”. He had an eight car garage – “and eight cars in the garage”.

Explaining why he risked so much, Whitacre speaks of a feeling of invincibility. “I felt like a rock star.” “I’d never failed, it was all successes,”Whitacre said. And so Whitacre thought he was too smart and too good to be caught.

“If I had to put in one word what we went to prison for, we went to prison for narcissism. We thought we were above the law and we all failed drastically because of it”.

Whitacre’s lessons are familiar ones. We see it with politicians, with athletes and move stars, this aura of invincibility. And we’ll see it again, bigger and worse than the last time. According to Whitacre,“50 years from now the scandals are still going to happen. The key is to not be one of them”.

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