While fraud is part and parcel of everyday life we seem conditioned to ignore the signs. Matthew Higgins, Senior Lecturer in Marketing and Consumption at the School, proposes a curricular solution.
Meet Frank “Fizzy” Onyeachonam. Until recently he resided in a luxury flat in the Docklands area of London, he drove a Porsche and he quaffed much more than his fair share of champagne (hence the nickname). This leisurely lifestyle was largely supported by illegitimate income, however, and a lengthy criminal investigation eventually culminated in a substantial prison sentence. Carefully drafted press releases narrated the excesses of Frank’s lifestyle, the suffering of his victims and the stupidity that led up to his arrest and subsequent imprisonment. Perversely entertaining as the story might seem, the depiction of villainous pantomime fraudsters stories like Frank can lead us to believe fraud and corruption to be rare phenomena. They are in fact anything but.
Now meet Nigel Iyer. He has been investigating, preventing and detecting fraud and corruption within managed organisations for most of his career. He shares with Frank the tendency to see numerous opportunities for fraud across a variety of organisations but his motivation for doing so differs from Frank’s quite fundamentally. Whereas Frank seeks to defraud and corrupt organisations, Nigel attempts to safeguard them by raising awareness as to the matter and, moreover, by demonstrating what can managers can do about it. Nigel was encouraged to approach the School with pioneering curricular suggestions after reading an article which cited our Head of School, Professor Simon Lilley:
Many business schools are shifting, belatedly, towards more critical and ethically focussed approaches. Some are undoubtedly sincere. Others appear to be engaging in a bit of ethical washing…the battle is far from won…
Thus encouraged, Nigel contacted Simon who subsequently charged Peter Jackson and I with developing a course which would challenge the auditor logic of compliance with the critical language of personal responsibility. Nigel, for his part, thankfully became a Teaching Fellow at the School and helped us to develop our new Defence against Fraud and Corruption course. The course is principally aimed at those already in the workplace and offers an innovative perspective by making use of drama, real-life case-studies, short lectures and relevant reading materials. It merges contemporary perspectives on business ethics with practical insights into fraud within the workplace and it is eminently relevant, academically rigorous yet nevertheless fun. Given the theatrical component of the module, parallels were drawn by initial participants initially with Harry Potter’s course in the defence against the dark arts and with Luke Skywalker’s apprenticeship under Obi Wan Kenobi.
As the course progressed, participants saw that the simplistic good vs evil narrative was difficult to uphold in matters of this nature. A management course devoted to Fraud and Corruption makes for interesting classroom fare but it also addresses a serious point, as pointed out by work undertaken by the students and within testimonials received: “an innovative and much down to earth course”, as one participant put it.
The course attempts to provide a fresh perspective on fraud and corruption while deliberately avoiding the sort of sensationalism attached to the Fizzy Frank’s of this world. Fraud and corruption is not just characterised by isolated heroic or nefarious incidents but also by the mundane aspects of everyday life. Like charity, fraud and corruption begins at home. The problem this new course addresses is whether managers and organisations are sufficiently prepared to realise their ubiquity and sufficiently equipped in the fight against them.