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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!
As a baby boomer who lost some of my retirement savings because of the dirty bookkeeping at WorldCom, I was most interested in learning exactly how the good old boys had done it. When I heard that Ms. Cooper's book was coming out I was eager to read it but more than a little bit concerned about whether I'd be able to follow the details of corporate accounting. I needn't...
Published on February 17, 2008 by Kathleen Ucinski

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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important story clearly told
This is the story of a telephone company (variously called Long Distance Discount Services, LDDS WorldCom, and just WorldCom), and its head of internal audit, Cynthia Cooper. In 1999, as the telecom boom began to fizzle, the management of Worldcom began to fiddle the books. This is the story of a crime, and the person who uncovered it. It's a great story, and one that...
Published on March 27, 2008 by Graeme from Waltham, MA


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34 of 35 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Highly recommended!, February 17, 2008
As a baby boomer who lost some of my retirement savings because of the dirty bookkeeping at WorldCom, I was most interested in learning exactly how the good old boys had done it. When I heard that Ms. Cooper's book was coming out I was eager to read it but more than a little bit concerned about whether I'd be able to follow the details of corporate accounting. I needn't have worried. Cynthia Cooper (one of Time Magazine's Persons of the Year 2002) lays it all out and in a way that anyone can understand. In _Extraordinary Circumstances_ she tells how she and her team found the courage to risk their professional and private lives by doing what they knew was right. In this very personal account Ms. Cooper writes with clarity, candor and warmth, making this a book with great appeal for anyone--not just business majors and disgruntled former telecom stockholders. It's for anyone who believes that ethics must have a place in the marketplace and in every part of our lives.
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26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An important story clearly told, March 27, 2008
This is the story of a telephone company (variously called Long Distance Discount Services, LDDS WorldCom, and just WorldCom), and its head of internal audit, Cynthia Cooper. In 1999, as the telecom boom began to fizzle, the management of Worldcom began to fiddle the books. This is the story of a crime, and the person who uncovered it. It's a great story, and one that has something to teach us about corporations and corporate crime today, almost ten years later, and will have something to teach us in another ten years. We're lucky to have Cooper, who was there to see it, there to do the right thing, and there to write about it afterwards.

Cooper does a good job in telling the story. She makes the accounting issues clear to people like me with no background in accounting, and the importance of internal audit obvious to people like me who have never had one and are not likely to. The book has a very thorough bibliography and index, although no chronology or time line. The book would have been clearer if Cooper had started at the beginning and told the story until she got to the end. The beginning of the book seems particularly clumsy: the narrative bounces backwards and forwards several times as Cooper foreshadows what's going to happen later in the story.

As Cooper describes how the fraud at WorldCom was committed and then discovered, she discusses the accounting issues clearly and in what I read as a matter of fact tone. I'm grateful that people like Cooper are focused on accounting and enforcing its rules, and I don't mean to belittle the profession, but I would have taken a different moral tone in telling the story. When you read the book, you have to remember that many of the people described are simply crooks. If there's a line to be drawn between accounting fraud and car-jacking, or robbing people at knife-point, it can only be that fraud is more efficient than robbing people one at a time.

I'm not sure whether Cooper is being ironic or not when she describes the good works that Bernie Ebbers and other WorldCom executives did in supporting the local community. It may not have been her intention, but it feels like an attempt to balance something positive against his crimes. If that starts to make sense to you, just think of all the good drug dealers do in bringing money into the local community, too. For me, Cooper betrays her bias in a single paragraph, when she recounts the way Ebbers treats two different employees: he continues to pay the salary of a Worldcom employee who has gone to jail for eighteen months for a white collar crime (otherwise unspecified), but he fires employees who aren't working hard enough. I'd make just the opposite choice.

The final part of the book is a very useful summary of a few different things: what happens to whistle blowers (usually not good), what happened during the trial of Bernie Ebbers, and how the Federal sentencing guidelines worked to commit him to prison for a long, long time.

The conclusion of the story has to be that, despite the title, there's nothing extraordinary about the crimes at Worldcom. They are a consequence of the way companies are structured, and the way executives are selected and compensated. As long as we have companies, we're going to need auditors as clear and courageous as Cooper. I highly recommend the book, not because Cooper is the next Hemingway, or even because her moral compass is infallible, but because the story and the issues behind it are important ones.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Not an accountant and I thought it was great!, February 14, 2008
I have already read this book twice! I've even given copies to friends and family members. What resonated with me the most is how Ms. Cooper draws out the human side of all the people who were affected by the implosion at WorldCom. This is not some jargony book on what went wrong with the numbers. It's an engrossing story about how anyone can get pulled in the wrong direction because of misguided loyalty, fear or greed. So no matter when the next fraud is, or what industry it's in, the only constant will be people and their choices. I'd recommend this as a great read to anyone!
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Retired Executive View, February 14, 2008
The story is inspirational and should be on Oprah's list of must read books.

This is not only an account of what can and does go wrong when "meeting Wall Streets expectations" are driven by the greed of a select few, but also of what is right in American business from the people who have moral values and do not bend those when faced with adversity.

When all of their education, training and experience come together to tell the team of auditors something is wrong they properly pursued a course of action that was right and proper.

"Making the numbers" as we are all told does not mean you make fradulent entries and violate the laws of any country.

It is sad that people who knew better were deceived by a CFO who ruined their lives and those of many others fine people, while destroying a company.

Great read for all.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book about moral courage, March 8, 2008
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As a university professor and former auditor, I found Ms. Cooper's book to be an outstanding book which will be required reading in my course. The book focuses on the personal challenges that auditors face on the job - and on the challenges all of us face in our everyday lives.

Finding a core set of principles to live by, and following those principles is not easy - especially when the people involved in wrong-doing are "friends" or business associates, while those affected by the wrong-doing are strangers.

I was impressed with her descriptions of her life experiences - that life isn't fair - and that learning how to "get up off the mat" is more important than having the best plan.

I was also impressed with her descriptions of the various ways in which she tried to understand what was being communicated to her. The "listening" and "communication" skills she discusses, and the inner strength she demonstrated when the easiest course would have been to ignore the anomolies or to take the explanations for them at face-value, are the real take-aways from the book.

The accounting issues are pretty straight-forward - though, for non-accountants, she might have spent a little bit more time explaining "allowance" (for uncollectible accounts) and "prepaid capacity" accounts under accrual accounting. Further, she might have discussed briefly why the "matching" concept didn't apply to the lease expenses (the right to use the lines couldn't be stored and thus, the cost were period expenses, not capitalized assets). Nonethless, her book is a perfect fit with the Dot-Com Bubble HBS case - and serves as a great set-up for a discussion of the current sub-prime loan/credit-crunch that exists in the current economy. A life well-lived, and a book well-done.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Compelling Tale Told from the Inside, February 14, 2008
By 
Andrew C. Wheeler (Pompton Lakes, NJ USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
In case you don't remember her, Cooper was the whistleblower at WorldCom in 2002; she was a Vice President and head of the Internal Audit department there, and had come across some discrepancies in the numbers. Like any good auditor would, she and her team followed the thread as far as possible. And that was much farther than any of them expected, and through more roadblocks than usual. She's finally told the story of what happened: not just the fraud itself, but the story of both WorldCom and Cynthia Cooper, the story of an upstart telecom company from a state considered a backwater and a talented, driven young woman from that very same place.

Cooper ranged farther and dug deeper to tell this story than I expected -- I knew it would be a personal and compelling story, but I wasn't as ready for it to be the definitive story of a company's rise and fall. I read nearly a hundred pages of this book on a Saturday afternoon standing up in a bowling alley during a kid's birthday party. (My younger son, age 7, was in attendance.) A book that can hold a reader's attention like that is something to be prized. This is an excellent business book: both a page-turner for readers, and a cautionary tale for corporate leaders.
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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Extraordinary Circumstances is an Extraordinary Read, February 14, 2008
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What a wonderful experience reading this book. I found it very hard to put down. Cynthia Cooper's story reads like a novel, but wouldn't be very believable if it weren't true. Cynthia was a self made professional who had to build an organization, starting from nothing, in a high flying organization that couldn't understand the benefits of internal controls. Moving through a company that cared only about building through acquisitions, they had neither the time or focus to care about internal controls.

When the Telecom Industry bubble bursts, WorldCom's CFO received the shocking news that their quarterly earnings were far below what they had forecast to Wall Street. Instead of facing the music, he directed illegal and fraudulent changes be made to hide the losses, hoping that this was just a short term anomaly that would right itself in the next quarter or so. Thus begins the slippery slope we hear about so many times.

Cynthia Cooper's tenacity and dread of what she would find when she begins her relentless search for the truth, makes this a very compelling story. It is very clear that this was not a vendetta or search to destroy anyone's career, as she is deeply troubled by what she may find and how many lives and careers may be destroyed.

This book should be required reading for every student of business administration. There are many lessons taught about maintaining a moral compass and the consequences that can occur when someone deviates from the proper course.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Personal touch to a Great story, February 15, 2008
Cynthia Cooper puts a personal touch to a great story. The circumstances that she and others at WorldCom must have faced are incredible. She forces us to think about our own decisions, and how the pressures we all face are great. This book, written in present tense, is a great read...that includes a personal touch that is often not found in a business book.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Bravery on the Job!, February 20, 2008
Problems began in October of 2000, when expenses were reduced several hundred million to meet analysts' profit expectations. The head of accounting stated that he thought it was merely an error and promised that lowered expectations would not cause the need for this to recur. Meanwhile, Bernie Ebbers was receiving margin calls on declining (dot.com collapse) WorldCom stock pledged for personal loans totaling near $1 billion.

Fast-forward to January, 2002 - internal audit was investigation sales commission fraud totaling about $10 million - accomplished through booking sales to customers that never intended to pay, submitting sales through several WorldCom divisions, etc. (The billing systems was overloaded, and accounting was strained through some 70 acquisitions and the efforts required to standardize their various systems. WorldCom ended up needing a $300 million allowance set-aside for non-payment.)

Ebbers was forced out in April, 2002 for delays in repaying some $400 million loaned by WorldCom's. Somewhere in that time period internal audit came across strange entries adding $2.5 billion to assets and decreasing expenses by a like amount. "Prepaid capacity" it was called - capitalizing little used leased assets, contrary to accounting standards. Soon a $3.8 billion restatement of the prior five quarters came, and ultimately grew to $11 billion and the largest bankruptcy ever.

"Extraordinary Circumstances" provides insight into the internal career threats (including sources from the WorldCom board) and blocks created to deter detection; however, the material suffers from several major discontinuities and includes far too much personal detail.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A dose of realism, March 17, 2008
I enjoyed the book and recommend for people with interest in business ethics and corporate culture. Having worked 10 years, in business ops, for a F-500, I liked the realistic descriptions from inside a large American company. There is no creative exaggeration; the author speaks in her own words, almost as if writing a personal journal. The language allows the reader to observe the narrative independently- the reader sees both the observations and the person who makes them- and decides for him/herself.

Anyone who's wondered, skeptically, how a high-school coach turned executive could have been the most guilty party in this financial fraud, will find suspicions raised after reading the book. I won't be surprised if this story is made into a movie.
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Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower
Extraordinary Circumstances: The Journey of a Corporate Whistleblower by Cynthia Cooper (Paperback - March 23, 2009)
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