Invoices were being raised, money was being paid, but to whom were we paying if the vendors never existed?
They say there is no absolute definition of right or wrong when it comes to human behaviour. It is a subjective morality and can have various interpretations. Most things can’t be black and white. At times, the greys become too difficult to navigate and the context prevails, the moment wins. However, when everything in the context was clearly black, how could it be wrong? I decided to question and the rest is history.
I joined this organisation as the Head of Talent Acquisition. Just to ensure that my house was in order, I reviewed past data, which included the amount spent on hiring in the past few years. I realised that we were spending insane amounts of money on hiring people. I initially thought the vendors were charging us too much and we needed to relook at the contracts. So, we started with organising the data and the paperwork. To my surprise, most of the relatively recognised firms in the industry had been sparingly used. Instead, a large chunk of the work was being done by other firms listed with us. Despite having dealt with search partners day-in and day-out, the names hardly seemed familiar. Perplexed, I started looking at each person hired in the last six months, source of the candidate, amount paid, approvals done by etc. The revelation was mindboggling. It was a bigger mess than what I had expected.
As we progressed, we realised that out of the 119 vendors listed with us, 76 never existed. Then in the remaining 43, majority of the business was given to nine vendors, who were relatively lesser-known firms. Invoices were being raised, money was being paid, but to whom were we paying if the vendors never existed? It all seemed to be going into a black hole. Who was approving it? My worst fears were coming true. I was actually standing against my own boss in an organisation I had just joined. Should I shut up? Should I just ensure that we follow the rules going forward and let the past be? How could I manage to get myself in such a situation? But then I thought that I had the evidence, I could report it to the ethics department and my job will get over. They could take it from there.
So I stood up for what I felt was the right thing to do. I gathered all the evidence and reported it to the ethics department. The following months were tough. My job had just begun. As I had thought, it wasn’t easy and everyone connected to me directly or indirectly got affected, be it my family, friends and colleagues. Truth finally prevailed. My findings were right - the Head of HR had unholy alliances with many vendors and many were actually fictitious. He was asked to leave. What else happened to him, I don’t know as I never followed. All I cared about was that we had been able to plug a fraud.
Then something happened which I had initially been warned about. People’s behaviour changed towards me. I was no longer in their circle of trust, someone whom not everyone could identify with. I was the whistle-blower. Yes, it was overwhelming because I really didn’t want to live with that tag. So I decided to move on and start afresh. People often asked me if I ever regret what I did. I don’t. To the contrary, every time I look back, I feel proud of what I did. That experience has taught me a lot and has strengthened my resolve to create a transparent workplace and encourage people to speak up when they are in doubt. If the situation demands, I will blow the whistle once again and this time with more conviction.
--The writer worked for a leading MNC in the IT sector.