You'll be in for quite a surprise if you pick up a copy of Time today.
The venerable magazine named three whistleblowers as Persons of the Year for 2002, and two of them helped bring down Enron and WorldCom. The third exposed some gaffes committed at the FBI before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"The Year of the Whistle-Blower" began when a congressional subcommittee released Sherron Watkins' memo to then-Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay in January. In that memo, Watkins told Lay that the company's accounting methods were improper.
In May, FBI staff attorney Coleen Rowley wrote a memo to Director Robert Mueller, detailing how the agency had ignored warnings from her office about Zacarias Moussaoui, who now sits in prison in connection with the attacks.
Finally, in June, Cynthia Cooper informed the WorldCom board of directors about the billions in losses hidden through fraudulent bookkeeping.
Time compares these three women to the New York City firefighters and police on 9/11: "Heroes at the scene, anointed by circumstance. They were people who did right just by doing their jobs rightly..."
The Time Person of the Year is usually a household name -- famous the world over. It's a pleasant surprise to see three rather obscure individuals receive the honor in 2002. Each stood up and did the right thing, at great personal cost, and at a time when none of them dreamed of any such accolades.
We salute all three and, from a financial point of view, Watkins and Cooper in particular. They represent the beginning of the end of the corporate culture of greed, excess, and deceit that came to a head at the height of the bull market. Significant reforms have come down the pike since their actions, with more still in the offing. They deserve some credit for that, and Time made sure they got it.