STOPPING A RATE-PAYER RIP-OFF #StickYourNeckOut #GiraffeHeroes CPA Barron Stone, one of the accountants and top financial forecasters for Duke Power Company and a loyal employee for decades, was abruptly transferred to a new job in 2002: Senior Analyst of Special Projects. First drawback of this job change: he lost his office and was moved into a cubicle. Second drawback: there were in fact no special projects for him to analyze. He had been analyzing pending acquisitions and making earning projections, but now his responsibilities were vague and practically nonexistent. Drawback #3: he was being harassed by his company and characterized as untrustworthy and malicious. Why was this happening to Barron Stone? Several years earlier, he had noticed something in Duke’s books that was, to say the least, irregular. There were in fact three sets of books; the accounting procedures had reclassified items in such a way to allow the company to under-report earnings, thus keeping rates high and incidentally giving bonuses to top executives. Stone was the only one out of 70 accountants to be concerned about this problem. He told his supervisors about it, but they ignored him. He called the Duke “ethics hotline” about it, but they ignored him, too. What then? Should he go outside his own company, the largest utility company in the Carolinas, with over two million customers and a great deal of clout? “My wife was against it,” remembers Stone. “She was afraid for my personal safety and the family’s well-being.” Stone realized that his wife was right about whistle-blowing not being safe: “If you go into it thinking people are going to pat you on the back, you’re kidding yourself.” Stone had taken his concerns to the South Carolina Public Service Commission. It was all supposed to be anonymous, but the commission released his name, and that’s when the fun started. The job and office change, the isolation and attacks. He was also rejected for positions that were then given to less qualified employees. The work environment grew ever more hostile, and Stone’s career plummeted. The following year, an independent audit was conducted, and Stone was vindicated: Duke had under-reported $124 million in earnings over three years. It subsequently negotiated a settlement by which the company would pay back $25 million to its customers. Why did Stone blow the whistle on his company? Was it worth it to throw his career into a shambles? He’s clear about that: “It’s very easy to say to yourself, ‘The company has taken care of me; I’m not going to rock the boat.' But does that buy your integrity? For me it didn’t.” UPDATE: Barron Stone is now chief accounting officer for a private company that owns hotels and resorts. Like this story? Do LIKE this Page! Giraffes should have 10,000 Likes.