A former FBI informant shared his story and his passion for ethics at the “When Good Leaders Lose Their Way” program March 27, 2013, in Eberly Auditorium.
Mark Edward Whitacre, the highest-level corporate executive in U.S. history to become an FBI whistle-blower, spoke about the ultimate real-life lesson in personal and business ethics, the value of accountability, always doing the right thing, and the need to think long-term in all personal and business decisions.
More than 200 students attended the public program, cosponsored by the Christian Business Men’s Connection and the Eberly College of Business and Information Technology.
Whitacre, who is now the chief operating officer and president of operations at Cypress Systems in California, came to public attention in 1995 as president of the Bio Products Division at Archer Daniels Midland (ADM).
From 1992–1995, Whitacre acted as an informant for the FBI, which was investigating ADM for price fixing. He became the inspiration for the major motion picture The Informant, starring Matt Damon as Whitacre.
In retaliation, ADM investigated Whitacre’s activities, and upon discovering suspicious activity, requested the FBI investigate Whitacre for embezzlement. As a result of various frauds, Whitacre lost his whistle-blower’s immunity and consequently spent eight-and-a-half years in federal prison while the perpetrators of the multibillion dollar fraud at the companies received only a three-year sentence.
Whitacre’s story helped students to understand the importance of ethics in business.
“The role of ethics in business has gained great importance in recent years,” Eberly Marketing Department chair Parimal Bhagat said. “Whitacre’s topic provided a personal perspective on the topic.”
Stephanie Vascavish, a Business Administration master's student, said the speech inspired her.
“Mr. Whitacre gave a very inspirational speech highlighting his unique situation during a very challenging time in his life,” she said. “This made me aware of the types of ethical dilemmas that I might face in my future career, the importance of considering the consequences, and the value of doing the right thing.”