Corporate Snitch

silence

Published in Corporate Dossier ET, May 03, 2013

I am a senior in an MNC where the CEO and his coterie are sucking the company dry with their corruption. They have a cut in every deal, order and have a “setting” with most of the vendors. Our company is in the investment mode in India so currently the mandate is to grow and numbers are all that the superiors in HQ are looking at. Given the monopoly we have in our sector, the numbers are easily attained so the CEO has had a free run. I have been thinking of being a whistleblower for quite some time but I don’t want to be the snitch. Please help me think through this.

There is a simple answer to this. Blow the whistle. Be honest. Be upright. Do the right thing. Make sure you have proof when you do so. Otherwise, no one will believe you. Facts are more valued than opinions. We can call many people corrupt, but as we know in India, ultimately only the Supreme Court gets to decide. And the Supreme Court needs irrefutable proof, that is often in short supply.

A more complex answer to find is, what will be the consequences of your act to you, personally, and to the company as a whole?

In the Ramayan, Vibhishan breaks away from Ravan and does the right thing. When Ravan dies, he is made the king. Even today, in casual conversations, people refer to Vibhishan as disloyal, a traitor and an opportunist. Kumbhakarna is more respected for standing by Ravan till the very end. You have to decide who you want to be: the upright Vibhishan or the loyal Kumbhakarna.

For like all actions, this action will have consequences.

It will reveal to the office that is managing Indian operation is doing a poor job in regulation and auditing. So heads will roll not just locally in India but also in the central office. And that will result in a lot of discontentment.

At a wider level, it will reaffirm the popular image of India abroad that Indians cannot be trusted and they are too busy deal making and doing jugaad, that they are not transparent and love short cuts.

A lot will depend on who you will inform. How can you be certain that the person you are complaining to is not in on it? Maybe the head office knows this is happening and is allowing it for its own reason. And how is it that internal auditors have not caught this yet? Maybe you should go via the internal audit route. Many financial consulting firms have forensic teams to identify and weed out corruption from corporations. They might give you directions on how to take things and what to look out for.

You may have to ask: do you want to be the visible whistleblower or the invisible one. The former may lead to you losing friends or winning great approval from the senior management. The latter may result in you not being taken seriously. The former is risky but has the promise of glory. The latter is safe but there is no glory. Many companies do not entertain invisible whistleblowers. Many MNC have a system to encourage invisible whistleblowers; find out if your company has that service. Usually it is a toll-free helpline.

There is the option of looking the other way. But then you have to live with the guilt of allowing corruption to thrive. And the shame of not revealing it when you could.

Most critically, you need to ask yourself why do you really want to do it? This is critical. For sometimes, we are so blinded by our own rage and envy that we just might assume gossip to be true.