The whistleblower’s dilemma – what would YOU do?

Further to my last post on whistleblowing, and my own experience thereof, sometimes I get asked to conduct seminars and workgroups on ‘Integrity in Business’.

The most rewarding sessions are when I place the participants into a position where the thin grey line between their moral integrity and financial or career ambitions is challenged.

Let’s take a hypothetical example:

1. You own and manage a strategic marketing consultancy. You are successful but not rich. You have personal overheads – mortgage, loans, car, children. You know how it is.

2. You are contacted by a long-standing business contact (the ‘Contact’) who specialises in mergers and acquisitions (M&A) and company turnarounds.

3. He has a client (the ‘Client’) who owns a small, provincial UK engineering company that is in financial trouble.

On behalf of the Client, your Contact proposes to place the company into administration and then buy it back, restructure the business and re-launch it into an important market, which is where he has asked you to get involved.

The factory and offices are too far for you or your Contact to travel each day so the Client agrees to fund the use of an apartment nearby. This is where you and your Contact will base yourselves during the week while you rescue, redefine and re-launch this business.

But there is a sting. Because the Client company has gone into administration, and is now trading as a new business under a new name, no estate agent will trust the new company with the lease of the apartment.

So, in all good faith and perhaps rather naively, you agree to rent the flat and buy the furniture subject to an agreement with the Client that you will be reimbursed in full from the revenue generated by the new company.

Your Contact says he knows a cheap furniture store near where he lives and you agree that he will choose all the furniture required and you will pay for it.

The invoice for the furniture arrives. It totals £5,250. You pay it.

However, as an experienced business professional, there is something about the invoice that does not seem right; there is a name but no address; there is no invoice number and, this is the strangest thing, the furniture you have bought and paid for is not specified item by item, piece by piece, price by price. You smell a rat.

So you call the accounts department at the furniture store and they agree to send you the invoices for the furniture bought and paid for by you.

When you receive these invoices you realise, with disappointment and no little anger, that the furniture for the apartment you have rented has not cost the sum you have paid for it.

In fact, it is revealed that the furniture you have bought and paid for can be neatly divided into two separate deliveries:

1. The furniture that has been delivered to the apartment you have rented near the Client business. This consists of an armchair, a sofa, a nest of side tables, two beds, four chests of drawers, a dining table and four dining chairs. The cost of this delivery is £3,100.

2. A separate order which has been delivered to an address in the Contact’s wife’s name and over 100 miles from the Client business. This consists of a two-sweater sofa, a three-seated sofa, a nest of side tables, a lamp table, a wardrobe, two chests of drawers, an extending dining table and six dining chairs. The cost of this delivery is £2,150.

As you can see, the total cost of these two deliveries comes to £5,250.

You now face the whistleblower’s dilemma.

From now on, whatever you do, all future actions are underpinned by a racing certainty that any trust you may have had in your Contact has been greedily betrayed.

1. Is this theft?

2. Do you tell your Client?

3. Do you report it to the Police?

4. Do you confront your Contact and demand your money back, after which all will be forgiven? If so, will you be able to look your contact in the eye ever again, especially while sharing the apartment you have agreed to share with the furniture you have bought and paid for yourself?

5. Do you do nothing, take it on the chin and, desirous of this revenue stream, carry on regardless, avoiding the need to involve the Client (or the Police) but hoping that the ongoing revenue from the Client will make up for your financial loss in the long run?

6. Or is there another option which, confused and alone, you have failed to consider?

This is the whistleblower’s dilemma.

What would you do?

About Hugh Salmon

Business leader. Adman. Writer.
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