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Paper: CFOs Succumb to CEO Pressure to Hit Numbers

Bruce Carton | December 22, 2010

Waaaaaay back in 2005, I wrote here on Compliance Week about two very high-profile, ongoing criminal trials of corporate CEOs (WorldCom's Bernie Ebbers and HealthSouth's CEO Richard Scrushy). Both Ebbers and Scrushy argued in their defense that they were unaware of any accounting fraud at their companies, and that responsibility for the fraud lied with the person who controlled the company's books—the chief financial officer. The CFOs told a very different story at trial, however. These men admitted to participating in the frauds, but testified that they did so at the direction of their intimidating and unrelenting CEOs who ordered them to "hit the numbers"--no matter what it took.

I wrote that the cases against Ebbers and Scrushy raised an interesting question: why and how do CFOs often come to be the point-person for accounting fraud in public companies?

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