Bottom Line Ethics


Helen Sharkey is a felon. That sentence seems in every way to be wrong, even as I write it. Helen Sharkey is a mom of Tae Kwon Do twins, a loving wife, a faithful friend. She is a diminutive dynamo, energetically expressing truth, thoughtfully responding to questions. She is a star, a top accounting graduate of Southwestern University with a Big 4 pedigree who had a rising career in the energy industry. But, there it is again. Helen Sharkey is a felon.

In perhaps, the most eloquent expression of remorse that I have heard in many years, Ms. Sharkey told the story in my Ethics class of her fall from grace at Dynegy a decade ago. She spoke of the people who influenced her, of the pressures she felt, of the key turning points when failing to “listen to her gut” diverted her life in ways she could never have imagined. She became, with her decisions, what in retrospect is the one thing she never wanted to be: Googlable.

And that Googlability is what triggered the introspection necessary to allow her to speak about her experience to a broader audience. Since she got out of federal prison in late 2006, she has quietly raised her children with her husband and led a “normal” life out of the public spotlight. She has established the connections that have allowed her to flourish, perhaps influenced by a reticence to trust broadly that comes both from being “perp walked” and from watching others more involved in your crime never get indicted.

But her eyes were opened to the fact that in a fully searchable world, her sons were quickly coming to the age where she would have to explain that, in her own words, “Mommy is a felon.” This not only permitted introspection, it made that process urgent. Ms. Sharkey needed to understand her story so that she could explain it to two boys coming of age. And the result of walking through that process is a lucidity to her message that few people can match.

Being in that room was like watching a match dropped on dry tinder. In the midst of a draining week, I was locked on each word of her story, as was virtually everyone in the room. She spoke in measured tones, but she was able to convey the changing emotions of each stage of her ordeal in her voice and in her eyes. Standing behind a podium meant to protect her, she opened her heart and her life to a group of students I am asking to examine theirs. And she opened them to me as well.

She did not have to dramatize, because the room was walking with her through her boss’s detachment from correspondence related to the structured finance transaction that was her downfall, and through the New York meeting that sealed the deal when her boss did not backstop her. Her stomach in knots, she said, “For the first time in my life, I gave up on myself.” We could feel the impact of the Wall Street Journal article revealing the transaction, the subsequent criminal investigation, the tightening noose of the indictment, with the U.S. attorneys referring to her as “smart and articulate,” as an “alchemist.” What followed—Dynegy cutting off legal funding, losing her job at Chevron, being alongside of her father as he died of cancer—are the things that make any reasonable person shudder. She did not have to serve the five-year sentence that could have been her fate based on her guilty plea. But she felt the incalculable pain of leaving her twin babies to walk into a federal prison.

It was hard to pull the students away from her after class. I heard one say that she would stay all day if she could. Until she came to my class, I had never met Helen Sharkey. I have dealt with these issues professionally for many years. I am not purely clinical, because I care deeply about people’s outcomes. I am always rooting and praying for my students to avoid these paths. But, if they walk down them, I want to be a redemptive voice who gives them hope that there is more to life than their failure.

I have never known how to do that effectively. But I know someone who does. Her name is Helen Sharkey.

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  1. Excellent post on Helen’s Story. Your words describe the pain Helen endured, the tribulations she overcame and the story she now tells to all, hoping others will not make identical mistakes, trust their gut and look out for themselves. Great job on getting her to your class and letting Helen tell her story.

  2. A sobering reminder . . .

  3. The presentation Helen Sharkey made was really moving. I was surprised as she told her story: she is nothing like the white collar, corrupt, power-hungry criminals I had envisioned. She could have been any of us sitting in that room, following directions and biting our tongues, assuming we just didn’t understand because of our age or inexperience. It was a chilling story to hear, and one that I know I will look back on in the future as a point of guidance.

    • I completely agree. She didn’t make a dime off of the deals that were made and did not make her decisions based on greed or for personal profit. It is chilling to think that her supervisors were the ones who did not support her. This reminds us of the importance of having ethical mentors outside of work that can help when making difficult decisions.

  4. Wow! I really enjoyed this week in ethics with all the guest speakers. Mrs. Sharkey had the most impact me. I was truly amazed how honest and forthcoming she was about her experience. I felt empathy for her. I admired that she did not place any blame on anyone but herself. Her story showed me the importance of trusting your inner gut. Her story revealed what kind of consequences one can face when not doing the right thing. I pray and hope that I can follow my inner conscious/gut throughout the rest of my life, especially at the most difficult times.

    • “I admired that she did not place any blame on anyone but herself.” I thought this was one of the most amazing aspects of her presentation. There was an inordinate amount of outlandish behavior from other people within Dynegy, which could have ultimately crushed Helen and potentially resulted in a much longer sentence. She was the bigger person and did her absolute best to remain positive throughout the entire process. By being the bigger person and remaining positive, she has overcome this tragedy and came out on top. I am very glad that she is able to live a life now without the fear of the unknown.

      • Yeah, I really admired that she didn’t speak to us with an axe to grind. I felt her entire presentation was professional. Yes, kudos to her for not letting the action of others bring her down.

      • This is exactly what I loved, as well. Helen Sharkey’s story is not only an inspiration for those going into the profession, but an inspiration for how to take on life in general. She showed true courage and strength by accepting her past, picking up the pieces, and moving forward.

  5. I was greatly impacted by Ms. Sharkey’s speech this week as well. She had me captivated from the moment she began speaking, and it was truly an honor to hear her story first hand. She made me realize, that no matter how small you think your role might be, to always speak up when there are red flags or something doesn’t feel right. Ms. Sharkey was able to convey her many emotions she experienced with our class, but hatred and bitterness were not among these. She wanted us to learn from her experience, not form judgements on people who we will most likely never meet. I admired Ms. Sharkey’s humility and courage to share her story because hers is one everyone can learn from.

    • That is what I admired most about Ms. Sharkey, her humility throughout her speech. She accepted the blame because she did not trust her instincts and question her superiors and when she needed it, no one was left to help her. She then had to deal with the hand she accepted because she did not walk away when her conscience told her to do so. I think the scariest thing about her story is that it is a possibility for many of us. She was smart and well educated which made her look guilty and as if she had taken part in planning this transaction. I think that is why it is critical to always walk away when things feel wrong or at least get clarification on what is really happening. If you ignore your insticts or do not know exactly what is going on, you are essentially a part of the fraud and smart enough to look guilty.

  6. Helen Sharkey had the most impact on me this week as well! The way she told the story of what happened gave me chills. The most terrifying thing is that when she felt that something was wrong with “the deal” she did not have anyone within Dynegy to ask for advice. Instead, she said she wished she would have asked a mentor outside of Dynegy. I can’t imagine being in a position where you are working at a company and you must be skeptical of everyone. I will NEVER forget her story. When my gut is telling me something is wrong I will think of her story to remind me to trust my first instinct. On a sidenote: I admired her ability to live with knowing that her supervisors barely paid a price for their crime.

  7. Luke 15:20 But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. —- We have a great example of redemption. Totally and complete undeserved redemption. Sometimes it takes stories like this to remind us of that. That we are no different then Helen. We don’t all go to the depths of being a felon or wallowing in a pig pit, but we all need a father to wrap His arms around us and kiss and and welcome us home. Glad she found her way back. Great story.

  8. Mrs. Sharkey’s story was an intense warning for all accounting students and graduates. What struck me most about her story was that she could have been held fully responsible for a structured financing transaction when it was fairly obvious that she could not have approved the deal alone. If I had been in Helen Sharkey’s shoes at that time I would have done the same thing. I would have gone along with my boss, the lawyers, and the bankers. When we are surrounded by people who all know more about a type of transaction than we do, how are we supposed to speak up and say that what is happening is not legal?

    Throughout my internship I just did what I was told. I was trying to keep up with the workload. If I had stopped and scrutinized everything I did for its legality then I would have been driven insane. How do we avoid falling into the same situation as Mrs. Sharkey? How do we know who to trust? All that I am left with is questions.

    • I agree, it’s intimidating to speak up when all you have is that bad “gut feeling,” but what I learned from Helen Sharkey is that we should act on that feeling. Rather than blindly trusting our one-day bosses on issues we feel uncomfortable with, question them and understand their responses so that we do feel comfortable. Professional skepticism is a very important aspect of the auditing profession, and stakeholders are going to rely on us to look out for their best interests. I too did what I was told on my internship, and after hearing Helen’s story I hope I have the courage to speak up when I feel that something is not right.

    • I found myself asking the same questions, Jimmy. The problem for me won’t be identifying the unethical behavior- my conscience will take care of that for me. Now I’m sitting here just hoping that I will have the guts to say something when I feel uneasy about a situation. Listening to Helen demanded that I pause and consider my character- I am not a confrontational person, and that is not always a good thing.

      • Kellie,

        I completely agree with you! After Helen’s presentation, I could not help but wonder if I would have had the moral courage to speak up under the described circumstances, and I truly do not know if the answer to that question would be yes. Honestly speaking, it could have been any one of us in that room, and it made me question my choice to pursue a degree in accounting.

        Since Helen visited our class, I have clung to the sobering rhetorical question she asked us, “How do I tell my kids that mommy’s a felon?” For me, this is a truly terrifying question that can be transformed into an ethical guide for each of us. I think asking ourselves a similar version of this question, such as “Would I want my kids, spouse, or parents to know that I acted in this manner?”, can be a powerful tool in grounding us back in our basic ethical principles. When we are faced with these moments of ethical uncertainty, asking ourselves this simple question may just be enough to give us the courage to confront.

      • Great points, Kellie. I believe that I am able to identify immoral actions as well, but hesitate to act on them. In addition, I find myself struggling to confront others, especially when I feel inferior to them. Hearing Helen Sharkey present her story really made me second guess myself, in particular, my career track. Being the people pleaser that I am, I’m aware that it may be harder for me to stand up to my superiors when faced with an ethical dilemma. But I truly feel that Helen Sharkey and the other guest speakers have opened my eyes to the reality of white collar crime – it really happens and I need to be prepared to make the right decision. Because in the end, “Helen Sharkey is a felon,” and that could have just as easily been me.

    • Jimmy, your last paragraph really resonates with me as there were multiple occasions on my internship when I asked myself, “Do I even know what I am doing?”, “Why am I doing this?”, and “What is this even testing?” In a sense, I felt like I was signing a contract without reading the terms of the agreement and this bothered me almost every day for weeks.

      I even tried to ask my superiors for the answers to the aforementioned questions only to be met with, at times, annoyed seniors who weren’t interested in teaching. While I am confident that no fraud was occurring during these engagements, it still left a bitter taste in my mouth because if they really wanted to try and conceal fraud, what better way to do it than to have the most inexperienced person in the room carry out your orders.

      Like you said, the only thing I am left with at this point is more uncertainty.

  9. I agree with you, Daniel. I couldn’t believe that her boss hid behind her skirts like that. And I respect her so much for still refusing to place blame on others.

    I have no desire to be a top exec one day, so I’ve thought myself immune to the stories of fraud we’ve been studying. Wrong. Thank you, Mrs. Sharkey for so personably telling your story and warning us. When your boys become older, I hope they recognize the bravery and strength it took to admit you were wrong, forgive your boss, and move on and enjoy life.

  10. Good people make bad decisions. Helen Sharkey is living proof. She knew it was wrong to go along with the deal, but once her boss folded under the pressure she gave up the fight. I believe this is what the majority of people would do. It would take a lot of courage to go up against your boss and tell him that he is making the wrong decision. In my opinion, Ms. Sharkey did not deserve to serve prison time. The blame should have been placed on the CFO and/or her supervisor. She is extremely admirable for not placing the blame on others.

    Ms. Sharkey’s speech was very powerful; I think everyone in the class was on the edge of their seats. Her story made me realize how easy it would be to get caught up in a bad situation. I think fraud happens more often than we think, the right people just don’t always get caught. Ms. Sharkey’s story showed that everyone, no matter what level, must watch their own backs because no one else will.

  11. Helen Sharkey has been one of my favorite speakers I have ever heard speak. Had I wanted to, I would have been unable to pry my mind from the story she told. One of the biggest things I learned was to always trust my gut. It is strange to me to think that in the face of any ethical dilemma, I probably already know the answer. I just need to trust my instincts. This woman was the best tale of a person who made a mistake and rebuilt her life that I have ever heard. She gave me hope that whatever happens, we are always able to pick ourselves back up, brush ourselves off, and be happy again. No mistake defines us. Although to some this mistake may define her, her own definition of herself is probably not felon it is probably wife and mother. I think that is another important thing to get out of her presentation- never give up on yourself.

  12. All of our presenters this week had an important message but I think Helen Sharkey’s came across the loudest. The way she presented her story hit close to home and was easy to relate to. How could someone just trying to do their job with no personal agenda be sent to prison for it? I very much appreciate her willingness to speak to our class and others about her experience, allowing us to learn about the possible consequences through her. Her story is one I will carry with me as I begin my career. I hope that if I am ever put into a situation similar to the one she faced in New York that I will think back to this presentation and be strong enough to hold my ground.

    • I completely agree Jennifer! Helen Sharkey’s presentation was one I will never forget. Her presentation definitely hit home with me. She was not a top executive, but rather a lower level employee with no hidden agenda, no desire for personal gain. I was sitting close enough to see the emotion in her eyes as she retold the details in her story. Like Dr. Shaub I too was enthralled by her speech. I sat there motionless grabbing on to every word she said. Because of her courage to tell her story, my life and the way I view ethics is greatly impacted.

  13. “Loyalty means nothing when people starting going to jail” – Helen Sharkey. This was a powerful statement that Helen said during her presentation that is both true and very sad. Someone who she knew on a personal level for years stood by and watched as she took the fall. Her story was about more than just the wrongful accounting treatment of an SPE; this was a story about one’s character. This is not a new scenario to happen in society, but when put in this context and meaning that someone’s life could be ruined as they leave their children behind for prison is awful. She mentioned that she chose the path of “least resistance,” but it was anything but that. If it were me I think I would have a lot of anger and resentment for the boss who stood by and watched. But she was forgiving in a sense and was able to come to terms with what happened to her. I don’t think I will ever forget this story because it could happen to me. I just hope and pray that if I am faced with a situation like this that I remember to trust my gut. I applaud her for telling this story and revealing who she really is, instead of having Google define it for her.

  14. The narrative given by Helen is not exactly what I was expecting. Each time I hear of people committing fraud I assume it is to acquire personal gain. Also, I expect them to gauge the consequences, ignore their duties, and have corrupt virtues. However, Helen presented the exact opposite of all these assumptions. Sadly she didn’t measure the consequences, she fulfilled her duties to the best of her abilities, and she ignored her very strong virtues.

    In the end it seems that the biggest lesson she learned was to listen to those strong virtues. She repeatedly told us to “listen to your gut”. Although simply stated, this phrase seems like it could be one of the most useful throughout my career. After hearing Helen speak I’ve even come to a new conclusion. I may one day lose my job. Whether it’s because I refuse to take part in a fraudulent scheme or because I witness one unfolding. Helen’s story has simply taught me that it isn’t worth waiting to see the outcome. I’d rather leave the situation and move on to another job where ethics are a priority.

    • I totally agree with Jonathan. The most shocking thing I’ve learned from her presentation was “this could happen to anyone of us”. It’s not greed or purposely manipulating earnings that sent her to jail. She was simply witnessing and following the order. Yet by doing what she has been told instead of what she tought is right, Helen became a felon. I think her experiences would be the most useful warnings for me in my future career.

  15. Helen was hands down the most impactful speaker for me this week. Her raw emotion and vulnerability allowed her to deliver a message that I will carry with me into my professional career. While she admirably took responsibility for her actions, I empathized with her statement that she never thought what she was doing was illegal. As an aspiring CPA, I think this was a powerful reminder that legality is not always a sufficient basis on which to make ethical decisions. Rather, the legality of an action should be used as a minimum standard. As we saw in Helen’s case, her assessment of the legality of Dynegy’s actions simply was not enough. With hindsight in her favor now, she called us all to “trust our gut,” and I think it took a true understanding of the consequences of her actions to grasp the importance of this seemingly overused saying.

    More inspiring than this lesson, though, is Mrs. Sharkey’s ability to create a positive impact out of her negative circumstances. She has selflessly allowed nearly 170 students to have the opportunity to learn from her mistake. No longer do I define her by her Googlability or brand of a “felon.” Instead, I see a brave woman who has used introspection to learn from her mistakes, and I find this truth to be uniquely heroic.

    • I completely agree with Kristin! Everything Mrs. Sharkey told us was so impactful, but her ability to selflessly tell her story to us in hope that we can learn from it and not make the same mistake is amazing because I feel like it would be so much easier to just hide and never talk about it again. Her decision to use this event in her life to make something positive out of it is uplifting and I think it brings hope to everyone’s future no matter where you are in your life. It shows me you can always get back on the right track and make a real difference with your life.

      Another aspect of the story that completely caught me off guard and I am glad our class had the chance to hear is that she was only at the junior staff level and still ended up convicted. After our internship, I heard lots of comments like “Oh, we just did what we were told and if it was wrong someone else will catch it. We would not be the ones to get in trouble for it.” After hearing this story though, I think our statements were completely wrong. She proved even the lowest level can end up in jail. This is a lesson we definitely need to take back with us into our careers and also take the initiative to watch out for ourselves.

      Dr. Shaub, thank you for reaching out to Mrs. Sharkey and getting her to come speak to our class.

  16. What a week of incredible speakers we had for this class! Looking up at the start of Helen’s speech, I thought of how she looked very similar to my own mother standing behind the podium. And then, hearing her story, it had the lasting impact of how she was just like my mom in many regards, except she happened to have “trusted the wrong people” and ended up labeled a felon for it.

    We always hear the line, “It could happen to you,” but I’m not sure I’ve really ever believed it until hearing Helen’s story. Each one of us will have the same opportunities and be faced with similar challenges as Helen; however, because of Helen’s bravery and selflessness to share her story with us, I firmly believe we will be prepared to act justly when confronted with those trying situations that raise little red flags in the back of our minds – I’ll be prepared to follow Helen’s #1 piece of advice and “trust my gut.”

  17. Mrs. Sharkey’s narrative definitely hit close to home. It is one thing to hear the stories of people committing fraud from a video or a third party. It is an entirely different animal when it is in-person, and we could feel the pain come from her voice as she shared her story. The most impacting moments where when Helen had to pause for a second to keep regain her tone. I truly appreciate her for taking the time to come in and share with us.

    Through stories like hers, along with the whistle-blowers from the other fraud cases we’ve studied, we can see how easy it is to be caught up in these situations. In every story we have heard how much doubt they’ve had initially because there were so many intelligent people who didn’t seem to see anything wrong. It takes a lot of strength and courage to keep following your gut despite the people around you telling you that you are wrong. Personally, I will have to work on this area myself. There have been plenty of times where I have defaulted to another person’s opinion because I felt they were more qualified. Because of that, I am thankful to Helen for coming in. She gave me more resolve to believe in my own intuition. I firmly believe her story will remain as a cornerstone lesson for me as I continue towards fulfilling my professional goal of becoming a CPA, and all of the duties that come with it.

  18. “Sharkey won’t be required to report to prison until October because she gave birth to twin boys three weeks ago” –Associated Press

    It is easy to feel desensitized about white-collar crime after reading about a new scandal every week. Blinded by the idea that these felons have no ethical principles, I forget that I myself have made questionable decisions when under pressure many times. Helen’s story wasn’t like any other; her story felt more like one, which any one of us could experience. The sincerity through which she conveyed her misfortune made her appear as human as everyone else sitting in room 114.

    The contrast between the extreme joy of a mother holding her newborn to the desperation felt in a prison cell tugged at my heart, and filled the room with an introspective silence. What should’ve been one of the happiest moments in her life was to some extent taken away from her by her supervisor, yet she fully assumed the consequences and placed no blame on this person who robbed her of this time. I have nothing but the utmost respect for Helen, and I can only hope to have her boldness when facing life’s struggles.

    • Felipe, I completely agree. I personally have become desensitized to headlines in the news about people going to jail as well. I usually assume there are “different from me”, in that they are unethical individuals who deserve what they got. I have never imagined that could be me. After hearing Helen’s story, though, I realized my reasoning might not be so in line. I can easily see myself blindly listening to my supervisor without sitting down to interpret what they want if I trust them.

    • The part of Helen’s story that left the biggest impact on me was the timing of her children. Felipe touched on it perfectly. I couldn’t imagine going from such a high point in my life to such a low one. I’ve always believed that the lowest points in our lives are when we find out what makes us click. We are exposed to the most raw form of whatever motivates us. As awful as Helen’s experience was, I believe the birth of her children was one of the biggest blessings during that time in her life.

  19. From the moment Helen Sharkey began speaking, I was captivated. I am truly grateful for her honesty and ability to tell her incredibly heartbreaking story. I hope to never be in a situation like hers, but she opened my eyes to how real this possibility is. If I recall correctly, she was only 29 at the time. I can only imagine how terrifying it was to be faced with this dilemma at such an early stage in her career. At the root of her story lies the saying “good people make bad decisions.” After hearing Ms. Sharkey’s story, I admire her courage and strength to tell the truth and continue on with her life after going to prison. The first line of this blog says “Helen Sharkey is a felon,” and while this doesn’t define who she is as a person, it emphasizes a vital lesson on the importance of trusting your gut. While very harsh, there is one thing I will always remember from Helen Sharkey’s speech: Look out for yourself because no one else will.

  20. Ms. Sharkey’s presentation was extremely impactful. Hearing the story of her life and a fateful decision that seemed to be in so many ways a case of wrong place and wrong time prompted a great deal of thought into my own future career as an accountant. Although I hope that I will never face the situation that Ms. Sharkey did, her presentation definitely helped me to consider the potential repercussions of decisions I will make as an accountant.

    Despite the fact that Ms. Sharkey was not the individual primarily responsible for the transaction and despite the fact that she was uncomfortable with the way the transaction was structured, she still faced some truly horrible (and in my opinion excessive) consequences. Her story is one that all accountants should know.

  21. Ms. Sharkey was a great speaker and I thank her for coming to the class to tell her story. Her situation was a terrible case for anyone to experience, however, it’s a privilege to hear and learn from her ordeal. I believe everyone makes mistakes in their life because noone is perfect, but what defines a person is how he or she comes back from that mistake. Ms. Sharkey, in my eyes, demonstrates resiliency because she continues to move forward while changing the lives of others.

    • Ms. Sharkey being able to go through all that really impressed me as well. I would like to think that I would be able to hold it together as well as she did through the whole ordeal. I honestly don’t know. Hopefully I will never have to know if I can or cannot, but I will not sit here and try to say I can. That kind of experience is something you have go through yourself in order to see how you will truly handle the pressure, stress, heart break, and depression. I hope none of us have to go through that. We will be tested in this profession, no doubt, but after hearing that story we should be able to get out or do the right thing before it gets that far.

  22. The most intense part of Helen Sharkey’s speech for me was knowing how easily any student could fall into that situation. She said she “shrugged off questions as inexperience” during one part of her story, and I felt uneasiness as I thought about how I did that on my internship. Even though, none of mine resulted in fraud, if I don’t learn to ask the questions now it could one day end up there. Helen taught me to never doubt myself as an accountant, to have confidence in my abilities as a CPA, and to most importantly never stop trusting my gut. Her story is one all students should hear as they go into the business world and are the lowest ones on the totem pole.

    • Lauren,
      I definitely agree with you. It is so easy to doubt yourself based on feeling like you “just don’t know enough.” I am so grateful to have heard her story and it will definitely stay with me as I begin my career. It would have been easier to put that part of her life away and never look back but she has decided to share her experience in order to teach others. I am so appreciative of her strength.

  23. Helen Sharkey’s story was one that I believe made everyone realize that could have been any of us in her position. A lot of stories that we have heard so far in class have seemed pretty obvious that something wrong was going on. After hearing Helen give her story it really struck home how easily one can find themselves in the middle of a nightmare situation.

  24. Most of our speakers have presented situations and cases following the idea that “you never really know how you will react until you are put into that position.” This statement was all entirely restated by Helen Sharkey’s story. As Lauren Burks mentioned, Helen shrugged off some of her uneasiness due to inexperience, which I also did on my internship. This is one of my biggest fears in the working world.

    Helen’s captivating story, specifically the parts involving her supervisor also made me lose a little faith in humanity. Continually hearing about people like Helen’s supervisor, and even the other 12 people in the room on the conference call who failed to speak up and tell the truth, truly saddens my heart. It angers and disheartens me of what some people will do, knowingly at the expense of others.

    However, Helen Sharkey and her ability to come tell us her story also restores some of my faith in humanity. That there are people who will retell and relive the worst time in their life, with hopes of educating and impacting others, so that they may not go through the same things. A huge thank you and blessing to Mrs. Sharkey for opening up and telling us her story.

  25. Ms. Sharkey showed true courage to come and talk to our class. I found her story to be absolutely incredible. I was listening to every word as well and I followed her every facial expression and gesture. It is amazing to think how easy it is to get wrapped up in a similar situation. I sympathized for the hopeless feeling she had when she felt she had no one to turn to. It is hard to imagine the many years of uncertainty that she had to endure. Again, Ms. Sharkey showed true courage to share her compelling story with our class.

  26. Of all of the speakers we have had thus far in Dr. Shaub’s class, Helen Sharkey was the most compelling in her message. She gave us what I believe to be the straight facts. Not only did she give us the straight facts, but she added the human element of emotion, which clearly many within Dynegy lacked. I am glad Helen is strong enough to share her story with young professionals like ourselves. Hopefully her captivating story will help guide us in all of our careers.

  27. I do not think that I will ever forget Helen Sharkey’s story after her emotional and courageous presentation this past week. As I left the class, I was terrified that something she blamed on inexperience and trust in her superiors had the ability to turn into such a tremendous fraud. Like someone above mentioned, I do not aspire to be a top executive, so I figured that I was safe from large fraud scandals. Now I see how wrong I was in thinking this. I am extremely grateful for Helen’s advice to never give up on yourself and what your gut is telling you.

    Now that I am reflecting on her talk, I realize that I was focusing so much on her tragedy that I failed to truly admire how well she has recovered from this exhausting ordeal. She is living proof that God has a plan and can use everything for good. Now that she is sharing her story and bringing awareness to others in the business world, she is changing lives for the better.

  28. What happened to Ms. Helen Sharkey could happen to anyone of us in the classroom! For example, when I was at my internship, I worked on some really complex tax transactions that involves a lot of “Cayman Island” entities. I was crunching numbers and had no idea what I was doing, and it was difficult to ask my senior to explain to me what it was – perhaps he did not understand either. It was just hard to see the big picture and the consequences when we are working at the bottom of the chain. That’s why I really appreciate Ms. Helen’s courage to speak to us. “Never trust anyone at work” is probably not what we want to hear, but it is alarming!

  29. Ms. Sharkey’s story was incredibly eye opening. I always felt something of this magnitude could never happen to me, but clearly I was just being naïve. Her testimony made me think about my future career and the situations I’ll be placed into. Never before had I thought what I would do if my trusted friend and supervisor initiated unethical decisions. Who am I to question the intelligence of my superior? I probably would not have had the confidence to question their motives and would have fallen into the same trap. Thankfully Ms. Sharkey gave us this opportunity to see that issues such as these are present and real in day-to-day life. One thing I struggle with is the fact that these ethical dilemmas develop in such informal environments. For Ms. Sharkey, the financial transaction was being discussed in a conference room just like any other day. I’m sure no one was thinking that it would lead to their indictment. It’s just so easy to ignore that gut feeling when you’re working in your normal environment. Thanks to Ms. Sharkey now I see that if my gut is telling me something isn’t right I will act upon it no matter what. Whether it be getting a second opinion or bringing it to my supervisor’s attention, I’ll be sure to make my voice heard.

    • Yes, Rachel I completely agree with what you are saying. I think one of the most difficult parts of being involved in a situation like Helen Sharkey’s experience include the informal nature, just being able to recognize with your gut feeling that something is not right about the situation at hand. Also, it is extremely hard to confront superiors and I think this is something that everyone is going to have to face sometime during their career. Her story really spoke out to me as well because it made me realize that her situation could happen to anyone.

  30. Looking at petite, kind-looking Helen Sharkey as she first walked into our classroom, I thought, “no way she has been to prison.” But sure enough as she unfolded her story, I was empathetically drawn in and captivated by everything she had to say. Her story is so powerful because it is shocking- a top grad working in her dream job at 29 later goes to prison because she trusted her co-workers and superiors despite her own feelings of uncertainty about a project.

    After everything she has been through, though, Helen chooses to tell her story to teach others- to show us that the unimaginable can happen to anyone and that we must realize we are truly responsible for our actions or lack of actions. She was truly moving and I am so thankful to have heard her message.

    • What an unbelievable story. At the point in the story where she was describing her experience, I had the sudden and uneasy realization that it might as well have been myself, the person sitting next to me, or anyone else in the accounting profession. I sat there trying to envision a scenario in which I wouldn’t have done the exact same thing given the outside pressures she experienced. But the fact of the matter is that I probably would have. I’m better now for having heard her story, but I have to wonder how I would react going forward given similar, if not exact same circumstances. I hope if it comes to that, that ill be able to do as Ms. Sharkey says and “trust my gut”
      It’s scary to think that as a group we’re entering a profession in which it seems so easy to unintentionally become a felon. I hope that through experiencing the story of Ms. Sharkey and others, I’ll gain a better understanding of how I ought to react in questionable situations.

  31. I too thought that Helen’s story was incredibly powerful. It shocks me that the jury was unable to see the truth behind her words, because I certainly felt the emotion in her story. I was also disappointed in the media for manipulating the story into what the public wanted to hear.

    One aspect of her story that I think is often overlooked is her relationship with her friends and family. I think that it would be incredibly difficult to plead guilty in a case in which you were innocent – especially against her father’s wishes. Once you plead guilty, there is no outlet for innocence, and you are labeled for life. I struggle to admit my shortcomings even when I am in the wrong. It would have been infinitely more difficult to accept responsibility for a crime that you did not commit by yourself.

    It is unfortunate to hear about Helen’s co-workers, especially the man who defended himself in court. The following article describes what has happened to him, and attributes his 24 years in prison to Dynegy’s drop in stock price. When comparing the consequences of pleading guilty and defending oneself, it is clear that Helen made the right choice. However, was it the ethical one?

  32. Getting to hear Helen Sharkey speak about her past was one of the most eye-opening presentations that I’ve ever been engaged in. She spoke truthfully and humbly, so much so, that I guarantee I wasn’t the only one that was left thinking…”that could have been me.”

    After the presentation, I felt privileged that I am a student at a university that has access to such a raw resource for ethical behavior. I am thankful for the exposure that Helen Sharkey so bravely gave us. I am in no position to say who was right or wrong in the Dynegy incident, but I do have an opinion on who came out on top. That person is Helen Sharkey – because she holds the power to make an impact on aspiring professionals like us, and she has used that power in the most positive way.

  33. Helen Sharkey’s speech was incredibly moving, and it really put things in perspective for me. I never realized just how easily any of us can end up in an ethically challenging situation. What I admired most about her story was how she took full accountability for her actions. She admitted to her mistake and has since then found a way to carry on with her life. Her courage is admirable, and I really respect her for owning up to her past mistakes and taking a stance. By learning from her wrongdoings, Mrs. Sharkey has taken the opportunity to now warn others not to make her same mistakes. She explained the importance of “trusting your gut” and listening to your inner conscience in times of distress. If we refuse to do this, we will become untrue to ourselves, and sometimes the consequences can be life-altering. As she explained in her presentation, we must watch out for ourselves in the business world because no one else will. Her story definitely made me more aware of the different types of situations that each of us may face. As I begin my career, I will make sure to follow her advice and trust my gut. It is far better to remain true to myself and to my beliefs than to end up facing the consequences of a bad decision.

  34. Ms. Sharkey’s story was so real and touching. Her story makes me feel that even low-level employees who just did what the boss told them to do can get into so much trouble once there comes a problem. Before hearing her story, I always thought interns or audit staff are covered by their supervisors, since they know you don’t have much experience. And no matter what happend, they will take over the most responsibility. However, Ms. Sharkey’s story told me when trouble comes, everyone will try to stay out of it and will do anything to protect themselves. You will be the one who is taking all the blame if you do not be responsible for yourself and defend yourself.

    Her story also reminded me of Dr. Nixon’s speech about his son not signing documents he did not understand. If Ms. Sharkey could insist on understanding the whole project and transaction before joining the project, she may have discovered the problem earlier. As auditors, we should try to understand as everything as we can.

  35. Without a doubt Helen Sharkey was and probably will be the most impactful speaker I’ve listened to during my time at A&M. It was almost eerie listening to her story realizing that she followed essentially the EXACT career path that most of us aim to follow. Hearing her story was gut-wrenching and really made you feel sorry for her and how she was treated throughout the investigation process. Although technically she is a felon, the woman I listened to couldn’t be farther from someone I consider to be a felon. I think prosecutors aimed to make an example out of her, and wrongfully so in my opinion. Those who bore the ultimate burden of responsibility for the transaction that was investigated never received what they deserved. To me Mrs. Sharkey was a pawn in the whole situation, and fell victim to society’s lack of knowledge at the time concerning financial scandals.

    • Great post Mark. I completly agree that Mrs. Sharkey was a target of prosecutors. They were clearly trying to send a message to the corporate world and unfortunately Mrs. Sharkey was caught in the crosshairs.

  36. While I have enjoyed all the speakers that have come to speak with our class, Helen Sharkey’s story definitely left the biggest mark on me. Hearing her speak about such a troubling time in her life was one thing, but the way she presented herself and the honesty that came through in her words was what made her stand out from the rest. As many other people have said, it is amazing to hear her lay no blame on anyone but herself. Mrs. Sharkey could have spoke about how wrong all her other co-workers were, but instead she focused on just telling her story and where she went wrong.

    It is hard to believe that the lady that stood in front of our class is a felon. However, I think it was an eye-opener for all the students and helped us truly realize that what happened to her could easily happen to any of us. This story will be one that I will carry with me forever, and I am very grateful that I was able to hear her tell it.

  37. Helen Sharkey was by far the most intriguing speaker this week. Listening to her story in class I was amazed by how honest she was and how at peace she has come with the entire situation. I think it’s very admirable and takes much courage to forgive those who have wronged us. She really brought into perspective how easy it is to fall prey to the pressures that higher management places on individuals and the importance of having an almost unshakable ethic and moral standard. She proved that this could happen to anyone and how we should never think that we are above becoming a victim. Another thing that Helen taught was the importance of having someone outside the company as a mentor to help reassure or help you reevaluate an ethical decision you are confronted with. She will probably be the speaker that most sticks with me because of the consequences that she faced, just because she trusted people that weren’t the most ethical.

  38. I was very inspired by Helen’s courage and humility to share her compelling story with our ethics class. Her experience really showed me how being put in an ethical dilemma with life-changing consequences could happen to any of us as accountants, no matter what your position is. With the increasing amount of judgment used in accounting, I can see the importance of following your gut, rather than co-workers, legal teams, or competitor companies when analyzing the appropriateness of complex transactions. As accounting students, we should value the quality education and work experiences that we have received so far to trust our gut rather than feel inferior to those above us. Another valuable take-away that I got from Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation was that it is never too late to turn back on a bad ethical decision and make things right.

  39. Helen Sharkey is one of the most impressive speakers I have met. When Helen said she promised her father in his last days to live as strong as she can, I were close to tears. I believe all parents are willing to do everything to protect their children from hurts. However, as we grew up, we have to face many difficulties and make decisions by ourselves. We have to be strong and take care ourselves since there is no protection umbrella outside family. One of her sentences deepens in my heart: “you do not know how strong you are until you test it.” Life is not easy and do not give up no matter what happens.
    It is very surprised to know her supervisor, her trusted friend, made traps and passed the buck. And company always protect its interest first regardless of facts, without inside investigation. It tells me I am the only one who care about and are responsible for myself.

  40. Helen Sharkey’s experience reminded me of a saying that my dad has told me constantly throughout my life: sometimes bad things happen to good people. Helen Sharkey may have made some bad decisions, but it is obvious that she is not a bad person. Her story was truly eye opening and gut wrenching. It was so difficult for me to believe that such a normal person could have suffered so much after just trying to her job. I have a lot of respect for her simply because she has been able to accept her situation and do the best she can with it. I am not sure that I would be able to speak to entire rooms of people and talk about such a horrendous experience. When she answered questions, I could just tell that she wanted to make a difference. She truly seemed to care and realize that her story could change someone else’s decision in the future. Regardless of her “felon” title, I still admire her courage and strength.

  41. When I was a child my mother worked as an attorney in the Dallas DA’s office. When it served a purpose she would tell me about cases she had prosecuted. These cautionary tales of crime and punishment made the world easy to understand. The people my mother put in jail were bad; a subset of those she did not were good. At some point, I determined this was a less than perfect view of our nation’s legal system, but if I hadn’t already, I would have after Ms. Sharkey’s speech.

    A quote from former President George W. Bush: “I believe in grace because I’ve seen it, and peace because I’ve felt it, and forgiveness because I’ve needed it.” One of the most valuable aspects of hearing Helen’s story, is that it reminds us of the redemptive power and value of forgiveness. I don’t think she would have been able to move forward with her life the way she did without letting go of some resentment and offering herself some reprieve. It’s very rare that a speech inspires me to action, but this one will and I am so thankful for her willingess to share her story.

  42. Over the past week in Dr. Shaub’s class we have heard several speakers encourage us to rationally approach the ethical dilemmas presented to us. We have been reminded that we know what is right; all we need do is act in accord with it.

    Ms. Sharkey’s story certainly lends credence to the importance of that advice, but I believe it also illustrates the difficulty of following it. Ms. Sharkey knew what was right, but finding herself a lone voice in the midst of tremendous pressures, she was paralyzed from acting on that knowledge.

    I would count myself fortunate to be considered on par with Ms. Sharkey in terms of wisdom and intelligence, and that leads me to a question. How can I expect to succeed where she failed? How can I hope to be upright in such a tempestuous world?

  43. It has been such a privilege to hear from so many great speakers in the past week- thanks Dr. Shaub!

    What really stuck out to me during Ms. Sharkey’s speech was how defenseless she was throughout the entire ordeal. She said that once the words “jail time” are thrown around, people will do anything and everything to make sure they aren’t the ones locked up. Ms. Sharkey became the scapegoat and once she was deemed the target, there was nothing she could do to get herself out. This is an important lesson in trust- trust others, but always be sure to watch your back. Often during my internship I would accept what my supervisors would say as fact and tribute my lack of understanding to inexperience, but after hearing Ms. Sharkey’s speech I will make sure that going forward I have a clear understanding of what I’m being asked to do. Throughout my professional career I need to conduct my work in a way that will allow me to defend myself in court, if the need arises. It’s a scary thought!

    • Kara,

      I think almost everyone felt the same way after Ms. Sharkey’s speech. During my internship, I did whatever I was told and never questioned if it was the right way to go about the task, or if it was legal for that matter. Ms. Sharkey’s speech makes me reflect on the tasks I did while on my internship and question whether some of those things were done in the best way.

      I know we can all say that from here on out we will ask questions to make sure we have a clear understanding of what we’re doing at our jobs, but I bet only about 50% of us will follow through. I’m not trying to sound pessimistic, just realistic. It’s much easier to just do what we’re told and get the job done, rather than ask lots of questions and risk frustrating our superiors. However, this would be the right thing to do. Like you said, we need to conduct our work in a way that will allow us to defend ourselves in court.

  44. Wow, what an incredible speaker! I personally learned so much from listening to Helen Sharkey last week. One piece of advice she gave was to have in your mind a go-to list of trusted people that you can talk to in the midst of unsettling situations. I agree that having wise council we can confide in will deter us from making unethical decisions. In addition, to think that we are immune to committing fraud is a naïve perspective we must never fall victim to. Helen Sharkey’s captivating account displayed that even the smallest player in a fraudulent accounting scandal is vulnerable to backlash–both emotionally and professionally. I applaud her bravery for telling such a personal story which changed her life forever. I’m grateful she was willing to share so that we, as students and future professionals, can identify these situations, trust our gut, and react quickly with action.

  45. Helen Sharkey used to be a good college student and a ordinary accountant in industry. Most of us will follow this track to enter industry. However, Ms. sharkey made a mistake and a false decision which affect her whole life. She is not only the accountant who made a mistake, also her father’s daughter, her twin boys’ mother and his husband’s wife. Her mistake not only punished her, but also brought huge pain to her family. I am so thankful Ms. Sharkey would like to share her story to us. This act could happen to any of us. Just as she said, we should look out for ourselves because no one will. We should keep our head clear and make right decisions.

  46. Mrs. Sharkey’s story was tragic. I think the most unnerving part of the story was her supervisor’s betrayal of trust. While trust is an important part of any relationship, my take-away was that in business sensitive situations, it’s prudent to always be on the lookout for red flags.

    I felt privileged to be able to hear Mrs. Sharkey’s story. It’s great to see that she’s found the silver lining in this situation – being able to share with others in hopes of stopping something like this in the future!

  47. What an opportunity it was to listen to Mrs. Sharkey speak to our ethics class! It pains me to hear a woman with such good intentions in life be labeled a felon. It takes courage to not run from your past. Mrs. Sharkey is acknowledging her past and trying to help those who will walk similar paths not make the same mistakes. What more could society ask of someone? She has clearly learned from her mistakes and is doing her part to ensure that history is not repeated.

    I find myself wondering why is it that, so often, the people at the top that are responsible for leading those below them astray are let off? What makes our justice system so incapable of going after those that are the real criminals? It is especially frustrating to her about the people in the story that shied away from telling the truth in order to watch out for themselves. If you ever have an opportunity to listen to Mrs. Sharkey speak, don’t miss it. Her story will keep you on the edge of your seat and make you consider carefully who you trust.

    • Great post Chuck! I totally agree with your point about leaders leading those below them astray. I believe that at the end of day, most people are ethical egoists and watch out for themselves, and in turn, throw those that are under them, under the bus. How unfortunate it was to hear how this happened to Mrs. Sharkey, but how awesome it was to hear how she has survived through it. I think we can all learn from her confidence, boldness, and her powerful story!

  48. Mrs. Sharkey really hit home as to how human and normal these people are in accounting scandals, whom we see on the news. It was sobering to realize that we sometimes think of these people we see being prosecuted as deviants of society. However, seeing Mrs. Sharkey come in and share her story made us all realize that we are all human when it comes down to it. We all are subject to the same pressures and mistakes. Her story if anything made me realize how on guard we need to be as auditors to ensure that we don’t get bullied into making the same decisions.

    • I cannot agree more. Her narrative is a bold example of the ultimate consequences that can arise if you let your guard down and don’t exercise proper professional skepticism. I was most intrigued by the fact that there were others around Helen, many of which she considered close friends, that turned their backs on her when it mattered most. This is a concept hard to grasp for me, but it demonstrates the principal that you need to watch your back, because nobody else will.

  49. Whether it was intentional or not, Helen Sharkey instilled a bit of fear inside of me. As I sat in the audience I thought over and over, “This could easily be me.” I was glued to her presentation, only distracting myself every now and then to fight a few tears.

    I am immensely thankful that she would share the heart-wrenching details of her story, which makes it real. Sadly, we read of accounting and financial scandals in the headlines too often, and become somewhat immune to them. But we are not immune. Many of us in the class will be in positions just like Helen was. We will be at the bottom of the totem pole, faithfully following orders passed down from the higher ranks. However, we are not immune to the consequences of our actions or even the actions of our superiors. Following orders and trusting the judgement of our superiors is not worth sacrificing our own judgement and ethics.

    Helen left us with the advice to follow our gut, and lookout for ourselves because no one else will. She made it through an unimaginably difficult five years, and I will follow her advice in fear that I wouldn’t make it through with as much grace, poise, and strength as she did.

  50. It was an absolute honor to hear Helen Sharkey’s heartbreaking story and feel the rollercoaster ride of emotions with her. With the reveal of each unbelievable event she experienced during that decade of her life, my heart ached more and more for her. However, it was when she described sitting by her father’s side when he passed away, that tears welled in my eyes. I can not even begin to imagine the pain she felt at that very moment, on top of the vast suffering she was already enduring. Nobody deserves to carry that heavy weight of grief alone on their shoulders, especially when those shoulders are as frail and broken as Helen’s already were at the time. Blow after blow, she somehow, someway fought her way through it. Her undeniable strength and relentless spirit deserve the highest form of respect. Although she is technically, yes, a felon, I can not think of more fallacious title to label her with. And she should not be labeled as that. Humans makes mistakes, but those mistakes do not define who we are. It is how we pick up the broken pieces and assemble them back together that truly matters in life.

  51. To me, the biggest takeaway from Helen Sharkey’s story is that she was made into a scapegoat when her superiors were the ones making the decisions in question. I have to imagine part of the reason Ms. Sharkey went along with the decisions her superiors made and stayed at Dynegy for so long was that she thought there was no way it would come back on her. With this story in mind, I will always call into question the type of people I work for and surround myself with during my professional life

  52. In today’s society with all of those distractions such as social media and cell phones, there are few times when a speaker is able to capture the eyes and ears of his or her whole audience. This task is even harder when speaking to a diverse group of college kids; however, Helen Sharkey somehow seemed to accomplish this feat.

    Helen Sharkey’s speech is one that I will never forget. In our ethics class we talk and hear about a lot of situations in which businesses, employees and thousands of other people are affected by unethical decisions. It was an incredible experience to hear from someone who had actually been and involved and lived through what we discuss.

    As stated in your blog, it is hard to believe that Helen Sharkey will always be labeled as a felon. Her speech about the decisions that led to her acquiring this label was very compelling. There were many times when I imagined myself in her shoes. I think the thing that shocked me most was how much she seemed to be betrayed by not only her company but also by her fellow employees who she considered her best friends. Mrs. Sharkey said it best when she said “lookout for yourself because no one else will”. Although this quote may seem pessimistic and even a little selfish, it is also the sad reality we must face in today’s business environment.

    I am very grateful to have had the chance to hear Mrs. Sharkey tell her story. I often find it very hard to relate to all the news articles of scandals dealing with unethical decisions made by accountants and other businessmen. These stories always seem to make the poor decisions seem so black and white between right and wrong. Mrs. Sharkey’s speech gave me an inside look of how hard these decisions can really be as well as how real the consequences can be.

  53. Helen Sharkey’s story was very impacting. Sitting just a few rows from the front I could not take my eyes off of her and could not help but share her emotions as she told her story. Helen’s story scared me a little bit because any of us could be in a situation like hers in the future. I think that her story was very important for all of us to hear. Hopefully, if we are ever in a situation her story will come to mind and we will have the courage to trust our gut. When Helen said, “look out for yourself because no one else will,” I first thought that it sounded a little harsh. However, after she explained herself I realized she was not being harsh she was just being honest with us. You never know what others will do when the going gets tough and that is why we all must look out for ourselves to some extent. I really admire that Helen was able to go on with her life after this event and not be bitter.

  54. Helen Sharkey’s presentation over her involvement and experiences with the Dynegy fraud was definitely one of the most impressing, thought-provoking discussions I have heard thus far. Dr. Shaub’s description of her recount illustrated “in measured tones” but “conveying changing emotion”, thoroughly describes why I feel her presentation was able to instill so many different feelings, while also allowing an understanding of the scheme itself. After hearing her speak, I felt, admittedly, a little bit annoyed at how calculated her story came across, but after talking with other students I understood the flow of her discussion to be the most effective way to achieve the objectives of telling her story, defending her position, and attempting to leave a message of skepticism and morality with her audience. It was the perfect balance of “measured tones” and heartfelt emotion that I believe was able to leave such an imprint on us as students prepared to enter the business world, and who could possibly be caught up in similar situations.

  55. Helen Sharkey’s visit was one of the most influential speeches I have heard while at Texas A&M. I value and respect her for putting herself out on the line to be scrutinized, judged, and essentially understood. Mrs. Sharkey went through more in a 5-year period than many of us will go through in a lifetime. In the hour and a half she was standing at the front of the classroom she exuded confidence, strength and wisdom– all because of a situation that could have left her broken with nowhere to turn and no one to trust. I honor her ability to forgive herself, and to move forward with her life and look towards the future that she has been blessed with with rather than focusing on the obstacles of her past. While her criminal record and ‘googable’ record is imprinted forever and marks her as a ‘felon’, I believe that she is anything but that. Mrs. Sharkey is someone whom I respect, someone who I look up to, and is someone who I think is a caring and good person inside & out. She was able to pick herself up after having fallen, and move forward with her life- for that, I respect Mrs. Sharkey.

  56. The presentation Helen Sharkey made was remarkable and moving. It was also a very eye opening experience as we heard a first hand story of Helen enduring the conseqences. It was a great reminder that you need to trust your gut and that even the most outstanding person can also get caught in the cross fires and left out to dry in the most crucial moments

  57. Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation was the most impactful presentations I have heard while at A&M. I admire Mrs. Sharkey for being able to tell her story without placing blame on anyone else, which I find really hard to do. It is so easy to place blame on other people when we are facing hard times.

    Her story also showed me how easy it is to trust the wrong people. Most people would like to think they can trust their supervisor but that is not always the case as Mrs. Sharkey showed in her story. It kind of scared me that she was labeled a felon when she had a low level position in the company. This just made me realize you need to watch out for yourself no matter what level of responsibility you have in a company.

    I am very thankful she was able to come and speak to our class and I will remember her two rules when I start working full time.

  58. The scariest part of Helen Sharkey’s story is the fact that doubting her abilities got her into trouble. I know how easy it is to convince yourself you are wrong and your superior is right. It makes things easier and sits in your stomach well, giving you a feeling you have passed responsibility onto someone above you. But Helen showed that is not the case at all. I can only hope this gives me the confidence that I have been properly educated and my opinion is valid. As I begin my career, I want to learn how to speak my opinion in a effective and respectful mannor. I feel for Helen and the regret of not voicing her opinion stronger and want to thank her for sharing her experience so that I may have the chance to learn from her.

  59. I was definitely one of the students in your class that was absolutely compelled by Ms. Sharkey’s story. As she recalled her experiences of what had happened, I hung on to every single word, startled at the way her story unfolded. Although there were many things that stood out to me, the betrayal of her trusted supervisor, and her lack of confidence in speaking up and doing the right thing stood out to me the most. I am generally a trusting person, and that makes me relate to how she simply went along with her supervisor’s directions, even though she knew in her gut that it was wrong. It is crazy how when you are considered an inferior in a position, it is so easy to just nod along with everything people above you say, because that is what is expected of you. I know that there have been times when I have gone along with something even when I did not know if it was right or not, but I felt that I needed to obey the authority. I could see that Ms. Sharkey was very bright and knowledgeable, but despite that she still fell prey to this scandal. I respect that she has owned up to her responsibility in what happened, and has been able to move forward, having the courage to share her lessons with impressionable minds. I hope that if I am ever faced with a dilemma like this, I will remember Ms. Sharkey’s story and have the courage to “trust my gut” and do what is right.

    • I too was compelled by her story and the bravery it took to speak to our class about her ordeal. Like you mentioned, I am also concerned that one day I will trust the wrong supervisor or mentor and end up following instructions that lead to consequences I never intended because I felt too inferior in my role to speak up. The other lesson I will take with me is the incredible courage, forgiveness, and class she has shown throughout the investigation and recovery process. I would like to think that if someday (God forbid) I found myself in her situation, or another tough business event that I too could possess and exhibit these same traits.

      I also can’t help but think about the statement that Karyl Van Tassel made about how the accountants are the people who always end up in prison because they have to get their hands dirty in creating the fraud. When this statement was made in her presentation, the first thing I thought about was how Helen Sharkey would probably agree and understand this statement all too well.

      Ms. Sharkey is an incredible person and I feel so lucky to have had the opportunity to hear this story straight from her lips!

  60. Ironically, hearing Mrs. Sharkey speak was like a breath of fresh air. Hearing about everything she went through before, during, and after the scandal at Dynegy and to know that she has moved on to live a quiet but happy life with her kids and husband is a very good thing to know. Her story could easily be one of ours, but having her come to speak to us put certain things in perspective for me. We are used to hearing stories like hers but not straight from the persons mouth. Not from the very person that had to experience the perp walk and the jail time. I thank her for not being afraid to speak about her mistakes because I am sure she has saved alot of listeners that day from going down the same path as her.

  61. Seeing from all of the above comments on Helen Sharkey’s presentation to our Ethics class is proof enough of how much of an impact she had on our class. I agree with many of the students above me in saying how sobering it was to know that I could easily be Helen Sharkey. As Mrs. Sharkey recalled the very intense trials she faced, I couldn’t help myself but sit and cry for not only her, but for the brokenness of the world we live in. If I’m being completely honest, it is stories like hers that makes me want to run away from the business world as a whole to try and protect myself and my family from the corrupt nature of some people.

    I think one point that she made that really rang true with me was to spend the money on the expertise of a lawyer. If we are ever faced with anywhere close to what Helen had to go through, you need an expert to be able to get you through unscathed. My father was a senior VP at Enron when it went down, and after Helen’s story, I thanked God over and over for his immediate retention of council. Like Helen said, the media and public are looking for anyone to blame, no matter how far outside of the “inner circle” they may be.

    Helen may never realize how much of an impact she has had on me, both personally and professionally. During her presentation, she spoke on how God works in crazy ways; I truly believe that Helen is dutifully and honorably walking down the path He has created for her, and by telling her story, changing lives for the better every step of the way.

  62. Dr. Shaub, I agree with what you said in your post and while I was reading it I couldn’t help but to remember that day and how captivated I was by her story. I was truly touched and deeply moved by it. I really appreciate the courage it took for her to come forth and tell her story to others in hopes of preventing another from committing the same mistake. I have now realized that this is a real and terrible thing that could happen to anyone, even me. Before, I was naive and believed I wouldn’t ever be in that situation and it couldn’t happen to me. But now I see that this can happen to me. No matter how junior the role I may be in, if there are red flags, I need to vocalize my concerns. I am very thankful to have heard her story and I believe she has changed my perspective on things. I will always remember the story of Helen Sharkey, and I am truly grateful for the lessons I have learned through her, which are to always follow your gut, and to always look out for yourself, because no one else will.

  63. Hearing Ms. Sharkey’s story firsthand was truly an eye-opening experience. The two lessons she left us with (trust your gut, and look out for yourself) are certainly valuable to keep in mind as we begin to pursue our own careers. However, the most compelling thing to me was her idea that good people make bad decisions – you can never say with certainty how you will respond to an ethical dilemma until you are actually in the situation. This really resonated with me. At that moment I realized that any one of us could be put in the exact same situation. When taking all of the outside pressures, and the short amount of time she had to make a decision into consideration it is difficult to imagine a different outcome if it would have been me instead of her. This is why hearing her story was so valuable – it was something all of us will remember, and can learn from. I could almost feel her remorse, and it really made me think. We all hope that we will be capable of seeing the “big picture” if we are ever to face an ethical dilemma of this magnitude, and I believe hearing Ms. Sharkey’s story will at least help us in some way to see things from that perspective in our futures.

  64. We were very privileged to hear Mrs. Sharkey speak, and I think everyone benefitted from hearing her story. The entire time she spoke, I still couldn’t believe she went to prison. It reminded me that truly could be any of us one day standing at a podium giving our story. However, that is why we need to listen to people like Mrs. Sharkey and do what our gut is telling us. No matter who it is, we never should listen to them if we know they are wrong. As Helen said, you need to look out for yourself because no one else will.

  65. Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation opened my eyes like no other. It is an incredibly scary story with an important message; look out for yourself and always trust your gut. I want to be able to say that I would have done something differently if I were in her shoes, but I can not say that. I am fairly certain I would have fallen into the same trap as her. I am so thankful that she tells her story for the benefit of others, so that I can learn and make better decisions throughout my career. I will never forget her story.

  66. I honestly never thought I would see the day when I would tear up over an accounting presentation. When Mrs. Sharkey gave her presentation, I had a knot in my stomach the entire time thinking “I can’t believe this happened to someone like her!” Truly Mrs. Sharkey had me second guessing my career choice. Through Mrs. Sharkey’s story I think it was made very clear that any one of us could easily end up in her shoes one day. It was such a great honor and opportunity to be in the presence of someone who was courageous enough to share such an emotionally draining experience with us. It was so great to see that she has taken her experience and is putting it to good use. I truly feel like her story touched the hearts of many and if not, was definitely a wake up call for a lot of us to not be naive in the real world because the reality of it all is a very rude awakening.

  67. I definitely agree with many of the other commenters that Helen Sharkey was one of the most interesting and impactful speakers I have ever heard. It shocked me how ruthless the prosecutors were on someone who clearly was not involved in the planning and perpetrating of the Dynegy fraud, and who so obviously had nothing to gain from it. I could sense that the anger and frustration is still there to some extent, even after many years have passed since her trial and imprisonment. I applaud her for turning such a negative experience into something good and inspiring–it’s much easier sometimes to let those negative feelings get the best of you.

  68. Helen Sharkey’s presentation in class has haunted me since the moment she finished. How easily did her story relate to all of us in that room? How many times on my internship was I asked to do something I didn’t understand–and found myself doing it anyway? How often do I blindly trust a superior’s instructions because, “they must know more than me”? Helen Sharkey’s story made me realize that I am not immune to fraud, nor to anything.

    Before last Thursday, I thought that only ‘bad’ people committed fraud. People with evil intentions. Indeed, plotting “alchemists” of deceit. How wrong I was! I would never in a million years describe Helen Sharkey as a ‘bad’ person, and yet there she stood in front of our class with a gruesome story to tell. And so I’m left wondering if I’ll ever be able to avoid these situations. And if not, perhaps the answer lies with deciding how I will react now, because I’ve now seen first hand what can happen if you leave it up to the moment to decide.

  69. Listening to her actually made me think of the movie Catch Me If You Can. It made me ponder if people who had intentionally and even unintentionally committed fraud could right their wrongs by doing more so “detective” work and uncovering wrong practices that other companies are committing. Whether this work be done for the SEC or PCAOB, or even Helen working to defend somebody who had essentially been duped into the same situation as she had. Any degree of fraud, although typically a very poor decision in the end, does require cleverness and intelligence to a degree to perpetuate the fraud and keep it going for years. Obviously regulations are put in place to help prevent these catastrophes, but maybe former convicted felons could be used as a resource and provide insight moving forward. Just some food for thought.

    • Interesting comment, David. That has actually been done on a number of occasions. One of the most interesting examples is Barry Minkow of ZZZZ Best fame finding the Fraud Institute and becoming known for helping authorities identify fraud. Unfortunately, he is back in prison now. I’m pretty confident that is not the route Ms. Sharkey is interested in going. Your suggested approach is more likely to be successful if there is a pattern of behavior, which doesn’t characterize Ms. Sharkey’s situation. But if you have a pattern of behavior, relapse is always a real possibility. Interesting comment!

  70. My favorite part of Helen’s story is that she has moved on and continues to lead a normal life. As accounting students, all we ever hear about is how much liability our career ahead of us presents and how easy of a trap it is to fall into. We are groomed to be skeptical and beyond careful if we plan on making it out of this with our dignity and lives still in tact. While I would still never want to be in Helen’s shoes, and I hope that I never have to be, it is encouraging that she still has managed to have everything she has wanted out of life. All we’ve ever heard is that if you’re involved in fraud, your life is over, and hearing Helen’s story made me realize that there still is hope even if you do get wrapped up in something you never meant to. Like Helen said in her speech, “No matter how dark the tunnel, there is always a light at the end of it.”

  71. “Helen Sharkey was an amazing woman.” That was the first thought came out of my mind after she finished her story. Before she came to the class, I googled her and saw only one Helen Sharkey had something to do with accounting but was a felon. So I thought maybe I searched the wrong person. However, when I found she was the person I googled, I was shocked. I couldn’t believe that beautiful and smiling lady used to be a felon. Then she began her story. I thought it would be a impassioned one. But during all the 60 minutes, she just used her steady tone. Everyone could imagine how many troubles she had been through and how much pain she had been suffered. However, she was still strong, as a mother and a wife. Her story warned us that never took the same way as she did and trust ourselves’ guts. The most important thing I learned from her was to stay strong and to believe that there always be hope. We might be faced with a large amount of setbacks in our life. If we were strong, then we could stand up and keep going.

  72. Helen Sharkey’s presentation was amazing. I am not sure if I even blinked. There was such raw emotion in her words, she seemed as if she could cry but she stood tall and delivered her message. I felt for her, she was thrown under the bus by her supervisor, hung out to dry. But I thought that her message was very important for all of us, “look out for yourself, because no one else will”. She had her gut feeling that the accounting was wrong, and when she asked her supervisor about it and he consented. She reluctantly still did it. The worst part is, he had no liability in the case, he let this sweet woman go to jail. It’s just a very tragic story.

  73. I am very thankful to Helen Sharkey for coming a speaking to our class, her story had a huge impact on me and really touched me. It is extremely difficult to believe that such a good person went to prison mainly due to the fact that she failed to listen to her gut feeling and trusted the wrong people. It outraged me that her boss got absolutely nothing when he was the one who pushed the deal through. As she so gracefully said, she has come to peace knowing that he will have to live with that lie and that would be way worse than anything she had to do. I really respect her for all the things she went through. I think it took so much courage for her to stand up in front of the whole class to tell her story in hopes that it will prevent one of us from making the same mistake. I will never forget the message she relayed to us, to always trust our gut and believe in ourself.

  74. I personally found Sharkey’s presentation pretty terrifying. Whenever I heard about fraud in the past, I always assumed it was the big fish that the regulators were after (CEO and other executives). Her story showed that any involvement whatsoever could result in severe consequences. It was a reminder that there is no room for error when it comes to ethical dilemmas. Stick to your principles and make the right decisions, no matter what level you may be.

    • Mason,

      I completely agree and came away with the same realization. After working at a Big 4 accounting firm, you sometimes get the feeling that you are just at the intern or staff level, and if anything happened you will be fine. This is a prime great example of how it doesn’t matter what level you may be in an organization, you should always step up and do what is right.

  75. Before Ms. Sharkey, there are several speakers telling us that we should follow our heart. When you feel suspicious with the “fact”, then it’s gonna to be some problem. But it’s Ms. Sharkey who use her exprience and mournful consequence to tell us to “listen to our gut”. During her speach, I can feel her emotion in her voice, sometime grieved, sometime angry, sometime strong-minded. Also, I was wondering how much courage is needed for her to stand here, to go to the court, to leave her sons…Is it much more than the courage which is needed to speak out at htat time? I think it’s not. It’s better to take courage initiatively rather than being forced to do so someday.
    In the end, I would like to say that even though the real story set an alarm for us, human do make mistakes. it’s impossible to prevent making mistakes all the time no matter how skeptical we are. But, impressived by Ms. Sharkey, we can always have the positive attitude and faith to look forward.

  76. What an incredibly powerful speaker Helen Sharkey was last week. Yet at the same time, I felt like a personal friend that she had chosen to share with the intimate details of an unforgettable and life-changing experience. Dynamic, mesmerizing, engaging, eloquent, and encouraging are all words that I would use to describe Ms. Sharkey’s recounting of her unbelievable ordeal.

    As a person of character, Ms. Sharkey chose not only to accept the blame for her mistake, but also to share the learning experience with others in order to help them avoid making a similar mistake. With the guiding advice of “Trust your gut instincts” and “Look out for yourself because no one else will,” Helen Sharkey brought vividly to life the concept of fraud and its consequences which we so often read about in countless articles with an unconcerned attitude. Looking around the room as she spoke, I felt that her story had made a visible impact on everyone there. As a perfect example of the hope and redemption possible in life from one’s mistakes, Ms. Sharkey left a permanent impression on me for future reference when the need arises, as I am certain it will.

  77. I have never been so captivated by a speaker’s story before. I’ve always heard ethical stories with the tag line “this could happen to you”, but I never believed them. What was so nerve-racking about Ms. Sharkey’s story is that it really could happen to me. Her story has left the greatest impression of me as a reason to always follow my gut. Her ordeal is so unbelievable, yet so possible in today’s world.

    The most impressive thing I noticed about Ms. Sharkey is that she never once feigned complete innocence. She accepted her fate, and met it with immense courage and strength. I’m thankful that she still had the courage to recount her story to us, and to powerfully remind us to stick to our principles and listen to our intuition.

  78. Helen Sharkey was so courageous to come and speak to our class. It takes a lot of guts to look back on a mistake that you have made and tell someone about it. I have so much respect for her and her family. It was good to see the other side of the story. Many times I find myself judging the people who have gone to jail for incorrect accounting treatments. The way the textbooks write it, and the media, it seems so black and white. That anyone in that situation would instantly know it is wrong and to not do it. However, hearing Helen talk about what she went through and her thought process through out, I can see that it is much more grey and complicated. I am so appreciative of Helen and her story that she shared with us. She has really shown me that this can truly happen to anyone and that we always need to trust our gut and go with our instincts.

  79. Helen Sharkey’s story was so powerful because she presents herself with “full disclosure”. She spoke honestly and humbly about all the trials she faced, even when she wasn’t proud. I feel that this made her the best speaker I have heard because it was just so real. I strongly admire her courage to share her story openly. I know it can not be easy for her to recall all those awful moments- from her boss betraying her, to leaving her new born twins for jail time. Helen has a very strong character because rather than forgetting her past and living her life in the shadows, she helps others in the profession prepare for ethical and legal issues they may face. I think the title you chose is very fitting.

  80. Helen Sharkey was by far my favorite speaker that we have had the privilege of listening to this semester. I know how hard it must have been for her to stand up in front of a group of future CPA’s, and tell us about the mistakes she has made as an accountant. These are mistakes that she can’t take back, but she was able to learn from them and teach us her lessons.

    I was able to listen to her from a different perspective than many of my classmates. When she spoke about being pregnant with twin boys and having to leave them shortly after their birth, I couldn’t help but think about my sister who is due in 2 months with twin boys. For me to imagine my sister being in her shoes, and being taken away from her newborn babies to go to jail just gave me goose bumps.

    It took a lot of courage for Ms. Sharkey to share her story with us, but if any of us were to ever go through something like this, she is living proof that it is possible overcome those obstacles and redeem yourself.

  81. This particular speaker has been one of my favorite because it takes fraud which is seemingly rare and makes it a real life changing event. As Helen Sharkey spoke we truly were captivated because we could see ourselves in her shoes. As mentioned in some comments, we were going back through our internships to remember if we ever felt that feeling on insufficiency to the point of just following orders. It was nice to see that she was a normal person, not some lofty millionaire with an attitude problem. As she told the story with magnificent detail I felt her stress and when she described her peace I felt it as well. I know the feeling of an issue weighing on you constantly and to see that she has found peace after 5 years of her life is very comforting. I truly think that us as auditors will think twice next time we are unsure with the decisions of our peers.

  82. Ms. Sharkey is one brave human being! I put myself in her position when she came and presented to our class and I couldn’t say I would have had the guts to change the outcome. I have had to make some tough decisions in my life, but none of them with the implications of hers. I couldn’t imagine being in a situation where you are abandoned by everyone in the firm who you cared about and left out to dry by your mentor. I now realize that I need to be very careful when I start my career and the decisions I make. It can just take one wrong decision and your entire future can change dramatically.

  83. It is obvious that Helen Sharkey’s story greatly affected everyone in the class. I truly appreciate her honesty and willingness to share it with us. I left sad and a little angry; some people cannot be trusted and will selfishly use others to gain power, success, money, etc. Helen emphasized that one cannot really trust others, but has to look out for themselves. I hurt for her, that a man she really trusted and did life with even outside of work, completely turned his back on her. I have also experienced times when people do not turn out to be who you think they are and it is scary. Her talk reminded me of how important it is to stick to your gut and make sure you have a mentor who you KNOW you can trust. Life is definitely a learning experience and I appreciate Helen letting us learn from her’s.

  84. As clear through the many comments seen above, Helen Sharkey had quite the impact on the students in your ethics class. Speaking personally, her story will stick with me as I graduate from Texas A&M and begin a career quite like she had. Hearing her speak, I saw what the lawyers meant when they called her “smart and articulate.” She was just that. She clearly is extemely smart and had made a great career for herself.

    So, what is so alarming to me is how this situation seems possible for anyone. As she said in her talk with us, she was the lowest member of the totum pole who worked on the fraudulent project. She trusted the people she worked with. Who wouldn’t trust the people they work with? This will be something to remember throughout my whole career. Overall, to see that you do not need to be a truly unethical person to wind up in a situation such as hers requires us all to not only avoid unethical decisions, but also to seek out ethical ones.

  85. I really enjoyed getting to hear her last week in ethics. She was the most motivating, moving, and inspirational speakers I have heard in class so far. After hearing her whole story it was so unbelievable to hear how she does not blame her superior who gave her the go ahead and who did not receive any of the effects for what his decision did to her and the others, but that she only blames herself for letting it happen. It’s just so remarkable for her to stand up there and say how she thanks God for things that happened in her life.

  86. Hearing Helen Sharkey’s story affected my viewpoint on those who commit unethical acts. Before this class, I saw people who were willing to perpetrate fraud either lacked strong morals or just got to greedy. After hearing Mrs. Sharkey’s story, that point of view has definitely changed. It is truly alarming to see how a good, honest person can just as easily fall into a trap like Helen Sharkey did. She was no different than any person listening to her tell her story, and any one of us could fall into the situation she found herself in.

  87. I was very curious to see everyone’s opinions on Helen’s story. I remember sitting in class and my heart was breaking for her and all I could do was wonder if everyone else felt the same empathy or felt she deserved the sentence she received. We have been learning all semester about how to avoid these mistakes that she made, but listening to her story it makes me want to run completely away from accounting! I know that is not logical, and ethics are going to be everywhere we turn, but it definitely opened up my eyes to how easily things can happen. I am so grateful that she shared her story with us and I think we all learned from this experience.

  88. It is really interesting to read many of the above comments. This shows how one person’s story can really impact so many people. This is a story that many of us will remember for the rest of our lives because it hits so close to home for us. I know that many of us vowed to never let greed run our lives, and in response, we decided we won’t ever be THAT person to commit fraud. It seems like a distant thing for us to do, so we don’t need to be worried about it. However, it’s stories like Mrs. Sharkey’s that convicts us and makes us realize “that could be me”. Those situations unfortunately happen, and I pray that none of us will be a part of such a situation.

    I really do admire her for coming to speak to us. It must not be easy for her to relive her past, but I am grateful that she is willing to share her story with us. It is wonderful that she has moved on with her life and accepted what has happened to her. She is able to move forward, and that shows what a strong person she is.

    One thing that is so frustrating to note are her coworkers who never came forward to admit their wrongdoings. I wonder if they are living with the guilt.

    • Mrs. Sharkey’s story, as many above agree, was absolutely incredible. I felt like you could have heard a pin drop in our ethics class while we all listened intently on what she had to say. I admire her as well and think it feels bizarre to call her a felony, especially after listening to her tell her story. She has been my favorite speaker by far because her story was so honest and incredibly eye opening. Although none of us ever want to be put in the same situation as her, she did show us how easily it could happen in our professional lives.

      While listening to her speak, I too could only wonder what her coworkers and bosses are thinking and feeling right now. They not only have the guilt of the fraud, but they also had to feel guilty as they watched Helen Sharkey get sent to jail while they sat at home on their couches. Although Mrs. Sharkey has been able to pick back up with her life, in her eyes and her voice you could still sense the impact it has made on the rest of her life.

  89. I really admire her for speaking publicly about her story. Her strong personality has allowed her to make the best out of her experience. I believe that everything happens for a reason. The challenge is identifying how we can take our mistakes and turning them into something good. On Ms. Sharkey’s case, she teaches people a valuable lesson that will probably save them from falling into a similar situation. Ms. Sharkey points out how it can be difficult to say no whenever we feel pressured. She called this getting carried away by the moment. We as young adults face this often in the form of peer pressure from people we think we trust. We sometimes make decisions that we later regret because someone else told us to do it. On the professional world, this outside pressure may lead us to make decisions that can change our whole lives. Let us not be a victim of this and stand up for what we know is right.

  90. Her speech was filled with a lot of emotion. I’ve only experienced such emotion before when I heard Mark Watson speak about the KPMG case.
    The reason I feel sympathetic towards Ms. Sharkey is because I feel like the prosecutors settled for who ever they could get their hands on. Instead of focusing on the executives with whom the fraud originated, they decided to go for her because it was easy.

  91. Mrs. Helen Sharkey’s story was trully moving. At many point of time, I can hear girls tearing in the classroom, and so did I. I was very surprised and influenced by her strong heart and how she saw this matter in the way of not being away from her own responsibility. She has a charming character and professionalism that attracted me into her life. I felt so sorry for this happening to her for that many years, while again she seems so strong that she gave us the lesson of “listening to your gut” throughout the speech. To be honest, I do feel a little worried since I took ethics class because of so many scandals and black sides of the real business world. But Mrs. Sharkey’s atitute is truly a motivation and encouragement of continuing with our profession with something we believe. I felt thankful to her that she would love to share her personal experience to us that she also taught us to live in the world with a strong heart.

  92. Helen’s story was incredibly compelling, eye-opening and heart wrenching. I think what scares me the most about her story, is that it could easily be anyone of us in her situation. If I was Helen’s shoes, I’m not sure I would have had to courage to speak up when I was surrounded by more experienced people whom I trusted. I’m grateful Helen took the time to come talk with us as her story had an astounding impact. I know we will each think twice about trusting our gut and looking out for ourselves when challenging situations are presented in our future careers. Thank you Dr. Shaub for getting Ms. Sharkey to come speak to us!

  93. I think that she really struck a chord with all of us. We’ve heard before that things like this can happen to any of us, but personally I think that her story really made it sink it. She really showed me why we all need to watch out for our best interests, and also watch out for who we trust. Gut feelings are also very easy to look over, because especially in her case being at a lower level position, you are going to trust the person who is in charge of you. The fact that he was a mentor and trusted friends makes the situation even worst. I think hearing her story really hit it home that trusting our gut and watching out for ourselves are very important in this profession.

  94. It took great humility to tell her story and do what she did for our class. Her story epitomizes the cliche quote of “It’s not whether you get knocked down, it’s whether you get up.” Well – Ms. Sharkey got up and lives to tell the story of it. I know many people, including myself, that would’ve broken in light of the events that she went through (the legal process, losing jobs, losing her beloved father to a battle with cancer, and being pregnant.) She is an amazing women and how she did it reflects an outlook on life and a degree of resiliency that I have unbridled appreciation for.

    I’ve always been a pretty independent person. After hearing her story and the words, “look out for yourself, because no one else will,” I’ve taken that phrase to heart with a new meaning.

  95. The presentation Helen Sharkey made was really touching. When she first made the statement, “I am a felon,” I knew the remaining of the presentation would be intriguing. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to get up in front of an audience and say those few words. Her ability to share her story in front of an audience is a huge accomplishment. I am thankful to have been a part of that audience. As you said above, I was locked on each word of her story. I was so captivated by her words. I caught myself multiple times holding back tears; I can’t imagine going through such a long, powerful ordeal.

    Her story showed me the importance of trusting your inner gut and looking out for yourself. Her story revealed what kind of consequences one can face when not doing the right thing. I admire her for being able to accept and acknowledge her ordeal by now looking at the positives and fulfilling a happy life today. As she stated, “No matter how dark the tunnel is there is always a light at the end of it.”

    “Good people make bad decisions.” Helen Sharkey is evidence of that.

  96. Helen’s story was one that I will never forget. Most cases of fraud we see revolve around the company executives, but Helen opened my eyes to how this can happen to any of us. I’m not sure if I would have been able to stand up to my superior even though I knew that I was right. I couldn’t agree with Helen more though about the fact that we all need to listen to our gut. It is something that my parents have taught me from a young age. I know that we should all listen to our gut in making ethical decisions. If something does not feel right then we should not go through with it. I think this is something we should all take to heart and try to remember as we begin our careers.

  97. At first glance, Helen Sharkey strikes me as a petite, reserve woman with a glow of innocence around her. However, her story leads people to see her in a different light, a white collar criminal. It was amazing hearing her story over a few years span and how she dealt with the day-to-day problems. I could not help myself to sympathize with her, and be in disbelief that prosecutors sought after her simply because her intelligence and capability of assisting in the fraud. It seems like over and over again we tell ourselves we will follow our guts, yet Helen realizes the fact that she gave up on herself.

    It really struck home for me when she mentioned that we have the choice to be a whistleblower and temporarily unemployed or a white collar criminal and branded for life. I think about the family I want to have one day, and how both decisions can prove detrimental to them but honing in on the word “temporarily.” I cannot help but think that had this issue at Dynegy come at a later point in her life; she would have followed a path that would not jeopardize time away from her family. I appreciate Helen and all the speakers sharing their stories because they have a tremendous impact on my values.

  98. After hearing Helen Sharkey’s testimony, I was stunned. I was so in shock by what I just heard that I almost started crying. I felt for her and everything she had to go through. I couldn’t even imagine how to handle that situation, and according to everyone’s comments, we all realize that this could happen to any of us.

    I had to go to work right after class, and I could not stop talking about Helen’s story to my coworkers. I even told my roommates, family, and friends, and everyone’s reaction was the same…stunned. They couldn’t believe the story was true, but it was. Everything she said could happen to anyone of us. Luckily, we now know what could happen if we do not follow our gut and look out for ourselves. Thank you to Dr. Shaub for getting her to come and speak to us. And thank you to Helen Sharkey for sharing your story. Please continue to share because your story will change Ethics classes forever.

  99. Great article. Although going along with the fraud in order to keep her job was wrong, it is nice to see that she acknowledged what she did was wrong and is trying to make up for her past failures. I wasn’t able to attend her speech she made to Dr. Schaub’s ethics class, but I did get a chance to read her bio. From what I learned, it seems she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time and was put in a very difficult situation. After learning about her situation, I began asking myself what I would do if I were put in this position. Before learning about her experience, there is a good chance I would have done the same thing, seeing as i am not a big fan of being unemployed, but after seeing what she went through, Im feel I am more likely now to choose the more ethical path. Doing the right thing always pays off in the end.

  100. With much of the class, I agree with your words on the weight of Ms. Sharkey’s visit. Although I am sure the impact of her story reaches far past the walls of our Ethics classroom, to know her story affected even one person I believe is worth the risk of telling it. The quality I most admired about Ms. Sharkey and the story she told was the fact she was telling it – her vulnerability. It is not an easy task to face your own past riddled with mistakes and regret, not to mention laying it bare with chilling detail in front of a group of strangers. No experience is a waste if you learn from it and to do so, I believe, requires vulnerability and ultimately humility.

    After Ms. Sharkey’s visit, a friend and I discussed the repercussions people face when they do follow their gut and blow the whistle on unethical practices. I asserted that a whistleblower is a more desired candidate than any other. Someone who refuses to accept wrong decisions as social norm. Someone who will not step aside regardless of the consequences. I want that person in my office. Thoughts? Would you be hesitant to hire a whistleblower?

  101. This was one of the most powerful speeches I have ever witnessed. Not just because her story was unique but also because I knew that I could have fallen into the same situation and live her same story. I sympathize with Sharkey’s experience especially because justice was not adequately served. It is hard to stand up to a superior and tell them that they are wrong. I think that whether CPAs like it or not, they are trusted by the public to have a spine of steal. The public expects accountants to not be affected by other individuals and to make ethical decisions, without the fear of getting fired or quitting a job. I feel incredibly humbled by Sharkey’s experiences and I hope she knows how much we all appreciate her vulnerability.

  102. I really enjoyed Helen’s speech, because of how much it personalized the story. It is completely different than reading about the CEOs and VPs of Enron, Worldcom, Tyco, etc., and their motivations. I found it really disheartening that she and the other 2 employees took the fall for this ordeal, while her superiors were let off without consequences. It reminds me of the HealthSouth case where Richard Scrushy did not get convicted for the HealthSouth fraud. It just seems really unfair for these more powerful and at least equally people to be able to walk away. I guess that we just have to believe that eventually everybody will have to face the consequences of their choices, even it is much later, like Richard Scrushy going to prison for the bribery charge.

    One of the things that I really took away is to do my best to act ethically at all times. As Helen was making her choices, she must have no idea of everything that was going to ensue. The same thing goes for us as we make choices, because we don’t know where things could lead to.

  103. I agree with everyone here that Helen’s speech was just life changing. One thing I would like to point out is how she thanked God for allowing such things to happen in her life. I believe everything happens for a reason and for a purpose. Maybe her experience will change the ethical course of many people starting with us. For example, before hearing her story, I always thought about the possibility of committing a fraud for some odd reason in the business world. After hearing her talk, I have gained the determination to not go along with others, but to stand up for what I believe is right. I know what happened to her could happen to anyone of us, but now that likelihood just got smaller.

    One of the things she described was the pain she went through during the litigation process. I think that at the end of the day is better to go home without a job but with clean hands and a mind at peace; that you went against everyone, but you did what you knew was right.

  104. Helen Sharkey’s presentation was by far my favorite. I was so appreciative that she shared her story with our class. It takes an immense amount of courage to tell a story like that and I know that I will carry it with me throughout my career. It is so eye opening to see that no matter what level you are, their can be consequences. Her story is an example of a situation we could all very well be faced with in our future. It is so hard to think that not “listening to your gut” can be so life-altering. I have never reflected so much after a presentation as I did after hers. Helen’s story is not only one of redemption, but of courage. My appreciation for her is endless.

  105. What interested me most about Helen’s speech, was not that she was prosecuted and ultimately plead guilty, but how the others involved (her supervisor, CFO), were able to avoid prosecution by proactively shielding themselves from the fraudulent transaction. Hearing her story really opened my eyes to the fact that at the end of it all people are going to look out for themselves. And that we should remain skeptical even within our own firm when offered or requested to do something unusual. If I was in the same situation as Helen, I would have been humbled when her supervisor asked her to take over the transaction and removed himself, thinking maybe I had earned the extra responsibility. I don’t think it ever would have crossed my mind that my bosses would be distancing themselves for a reason. I am glad I got the chance to hear Helen’s story, and hope that I will take to heart the lessons she learned and remember them during my own professional career.

  106. I really appreciate Helen sharing her story. It must have been hard to come up with the right words. Her ordeal is warning and a lesson for us to see and learn from. In accounting if it doesn’t feel right it probably isn’t. You need to go with your gut and stay true to yourself. Granted, it is much harder when everyone, including your most trusted supervisor, goes against you.

  107. I definitely found Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation to be the most meaningful of all the presentations we’ve had this year. I believe she did a truly incredible job of portraying all of the very personal and intimate feelings that she underwent during her trial. She really did a great job of illustrating the human side of white collar crime. I found myself thinking back to my audit internship throughout her whole speech. Her stories of feeling “in over her head” and assuming that she must be wrong reminded me of experiencing those same feelings during my intership. It is such a natural reaction to doubt oneself when you are in disagreement with many intelligent individuals you respect and admire. Mrs. Sharky’s story will absolutely have an impact on how I approach complex business decisions in my career.

  108. As I listened to Ms. Sharkey’s presentation, I couldn’t help but think about the other people involved, and how the two others convicted of the securities fraud were in the same position. I admired her ability to not hold any outward grudge towards her supervisor who essentially left her out to dry. It truly shows that sometimes good people get put in bad situations.

    For me at the beginning of the ethics class I didn’t really expect to become more ethical over the course of the semester. After listening to Ms. Sharkey I realized that is not was this class is about. It is about teaching us to trust our selves because when we end up in a sticky situation the only person who knows how you will react is yourself, and to rely on no one but yourself to make the final decision.

  109. The most terrifying/sobering aspect of Helen Sharkey’s role in the Dynegy fraud was that, while I could see that she was “guilty” and that her sentence was “fair”, as much as I internally disagree with both of those facts, I also judge that she did not necessarily do anything “wrong”. In fact, I see a lot of things that she did “right”. I would have probably behaved similarly. The realization that with my current ethical muscle I could have still wound up in federal prison for a large corporate fraud is very sobering. I hope that I will act differently, given a similar hypothetical situation, now that I have heard her story than I would have before. Her’s is a cautionary tale. Beware. Her name would be a good one to keep posted in my cubicle as a reminder to myself.

  110. Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation is definately one to remember. Her entire story reflected that she was a good person with the right mindset. However, she pointed out that good people still make bad decisions, you don’t know how you will react until you are in the situation. As a mother, my heart broke for Mrs. Sharkey, I couldn’t imagine having to explain this type of situation to people I love and respect, let alone, my daughter who looks up to me as a role-model. She is such a strong person and I am so thankful to have had her come and speak to our class. I am also thankful she has come to terms with herself, and has been able to move on with her life.

  111. I found Mrs. Sharkey’s presentation to be the most influential one we have had so far. I was completely intrigued and engrossed in her story the entire time. Her story is the first one we’ve herd that genuinely scared me. I can easily see what happened to her, happen to me as well. I realize now how conscious I have to be of not only my actions, but everything going on around me as well. It reminded me of when I was on my internship. I often felt I didn’t have enough knowledge to argue my point (which is most likely the case), but this class and Mrs. Sharkey’s story have taught me that I will need to be confident in my abilities and knowledge in order to remain ethical. Thank you so much for coming Mrs. Sharkey! I’m very glad you’re on the other side of this now.

  112. Helen Sharkey’s speech was definitely my favorite of all the presentations that we’ve had this semester. She’s just a normal person who got caught in the middle of a huge accounting scandal, and that can happen to any one of us. The main thing that caught my attention in the story was that she was so low on the totem pole but still got sucked into all of the bad accounting. Of course she’s going to do what she’s told, most if not all of us would do the same thing. The lesson learned here really is to trust your gut. We’re all well educated enough to know if something’s right or wrong, and if we don’t feel comfortable with something we should not go forward with it.

  113. The words Mrs. Sharkey is a felon are very hard for me to process. It just doesn’t make sense that such a strong person could suffer from this kind of situation. The fact that she is able to share her story with others serves as a great example and takes a lot of courage to do. She has to think about what others think of her, but based on her talk, she is very confident in who she is. I have found her talk to be one of the most engaging and motivational we’ve, as I really felt like this was something that I could struggle with sometime in my life.

  114. Helen Sharkey’s story is one that I will never forget and will serve as a constant reminder to speak up if something is wrong. I think that we all have the mentality that these types of situations could never happen to us because we know the difference between right and wrong. Helen’s story is proof that even good people make bad decisions. I cannot imagine having to go through what she did and admire her for sharing her experience with the class.

  115. I found Mrs. Sharky’s story moving. I really connected with her when she said that she first assumed the red flags were because of her inexperience. On my internship, I would ask questions about how last years people got that number, and they all told me look at PY, but I feel that some of the PY numbers were backed in. I chalked it up to inexperience and talked to my 1st year, but if I would have come across fraud who knows if I would have notices. I fell like even though we think we would speak up, we could just not want to look dumb. Helen’s story is proof that anyone can get caught up in an accounting scandal, especially if you do not ask the right questions.

  116. It is a shame that such an honest person got caught up in such a mess. Originally I had thought that Helen went to jail because she was greedy and did what she did for personnel gain, but after hearing her story, I realized that I was completely wrong. By the end of her story, I felt remorseful for what she and her family had to go through. It took true strength and courage on Helens part to not throw her boss or the others involved under the proverbial bus. I tip my hat to Helen Sharkley and wish her the best in the future.

  117. Thank you Dr. Shaub for this wonderful post and giving our class the opportunity to hear her story. Helen Sharkey’s story was one that moved everyone in the classroom. Like you said, you could see the emotion in her eyes the whole entire time. But, behind her eyes you could see her strength and how far she had really come throughout this whole process. I was one of the students who stayed after to talk with her. I believe that having one through this situation, Helen would be an incredible mentor. Her sons are lucky to have her in their lives. She is a prime example of forgiveness. Everyone needs to learn how to forgive others, but also forgive themselves for their wrongdoings. Helen said it was hard to forgive herself, but I think now she has and she is helping the community out by sharing her story. Although Helon is a felon, she’s a strong woman in our classes’s eyes.

  118. Mrs. Sharkey story and her experiences encountered in her profession are quite heart breaking and saddening. Indeed, in this profession, we can all become a victim in such situation too. Hopefully, the manners which I have been raised on with the necessary teachings and guidance to live a moral life would empower me enough in life; not forgetting following my “gut” to make the necessary decisions when the need arises…

  119. I think “Redemption” is the perfect title for this blog post. What amazed me most about her speech was her resilience throughout the trials. Most people would have been so overcome by the situation that they would have let other aspects of their life go down the gutter, but Mrs. Sharkey didn’t. Instead of accepting that life as she knew it was ceasing, she fought against the current; she chose to get married and to have children. This not only shows her strong will but her optimism for life. Mrs. Sharkey had every right to claim that she was a victim, but instead, she overcame. Her story has inspired me as much as Bonhoeffer’s has. Despite Bonhoeffer being sentenced to prison for his role in the conspiracy to kill Hitler, he chose to propose to a girl he was in love with as a sign of him saying Yes to life. I believe that through her actions Mrs. Sharkey has proclaimed this same Yes to life.

  120. After telling my parents of the unique opportunity to hear Helen Sharkey speak (they are often interested in stories like that), I was struggling to sufficiently summarize her story and what she told us in class. However, after reading this post, it is clear I should stop trying to summarize it myself, and just direct them to this post. This post was able to capture her pain as the situation progressed and her joy as she realized she no longer needed to be defined as a felon, and could begin to live her life anew.

  121. I think Ms. Sharkey’s presentation was the best we had during this class. It really touched me at just how open and personal she was with us. It was kind of terrifying in a way to realize that a staff accountant can be partially blamed for such an ordeal, but yet inspiring to hear how she came out of it a stronger person. I could just tell from listening to her speak (and not even knowing her) that she had this immense amount of bravery. I know I will remember her story through out my career, especially when I may doubt my abilities. Yes she may be searchable on the internet now and yes her kids may look her up, but I think once they know her story and what she went through, they will look at her with admiration.

  122. Although we have been hearing “it could happen to you” throughout the entire course, I wasn’t able to grasp how true it was until I heard Helen’s story. Her story is one that I will never forget and her message is very clear: always trust your gut. I thought it was very impactful to hear her speak after we had all completed our internships because we were able to relate more to her story and better understand how she got caught in scandal at Dynegy. Hearing her speak has definitely made an impact on how I will approach my job as an auditor. I’m much more aware and understanding of the importance of asking the right questions and speaking up when something doesn’t feel right. I was also very moved by her email in response to the letters we sent her. I hope that being able to speak to our class was a step towards putting her story behind her and moving on.

  123. A thought that keeps popping into my head with this situation is a quote I came across in my ongoing reading – Toughness by Jay Bilas. The quote is “you definitely can’t climb a ladder in one step but you sure can fall to the bottom with one (mis)step.”

    Helen was achieving success at such a rapid pace, moving up the ranks into her dream job so early in her career – she must’ve felt on top of the world (or at the top of her ladder, for analogy’s sake) when starting at Dynegy. Her heart-wrenching story serves as the ultimate example of just how important each step of the ladder really is in our professional career. You can do something correctly your entire life, but can so easily be defined by one mishap – which is the reality of a harsh and unfair world sometimes. My heart goes out to Helen, the victim of a terrible situation that I hope to never find myself in – but I’m grateful to have had the privilege of hearing from this account in person in an effort to heighten my senses for such happenings in the work force.

  124. The story that Helen Sharkey told was really meaningful. She is certainly not what I was expecting when I was going into this class and it is hard to belief that she is labelled a felon. But it really makes you aware that you have to look out for everything when your in the business world as people will always stab you in the back to save themselves. Even those that you look up to and have a close relationship with.

  125. I googled Ms. Sharkey before coming to class to hear her speak. I must admit that I pinned her for the stereotypical, heartless fraudster, but once she began telling her story, I viewed her as a scapegoat and felt extremely empathetic for her situation. I was incredibly moved by Helen Sharkey’s presentation because I could very easily see myself reacting the same way as she had. As she spoke about her educational background, once impressive resume, and rise quick rise to success, I realized how similar she was to the students in the class. Like Helen, all of us are intelligent and ambitious, but I can only speak for myself when I say that Helen and I both may be too trusting of those in superior positions. While on my internship I did most tasks simply because my senior told me too, without even thinking about why I was doing them. Honestly, unlike Helen, I do not know if I would have even questioned my supervisor. She effectively showed us that people with even the best of intentions can be dragged into an unethical situation, and I commend her for her ability to eloquently and honestly tell her story.

  126. I don’t think I will ever forget the silence in the classroom as Ms. Sharkey shared her story!! You could have heard a pin drop!! However, I think the thing that struck me most about Helen Sharkey’s presentation was not the incredible facts of her story, but instead her transparency as she shared them. I in no way say that to diminish or discount the intensity of the facts themselves, for they were truly mind blowing! I just greatly admire her willingness to open her life to a group of college students simply in the hopes of protecting them from making the same mistakes.

    I truly believe that one of the greatest qualities a person can possess is transparency. It is how we learn from one another and push each other to be better than we are. By humbling ourselves enough to share our struggles and slip-ups we serve 2 very important purposes. 1) We offer the wisdom of experience to those who listen so that they may benefit. 2) We free ourselves from the weight of our mistake and enable ourselves to move forward. I saw Ms. Sharkey beautifully accomplish both of those things in her presentation.

    I admire her poise and composure as well as her emotion and honesty. I believe that even though her children may be able to Google her in the future, the woman she displayed herself to be to our class makes her a mom they are proud to have!!

  127. Looking at her speech from a view point of redemption is a great way to look at it. I think it’s very good for Ms. Sharkey to know she has redemption with her friends and family. I am sure that her husband and family have forgiven her. Additionally, I hope and think that her children will understand her mistakes and forgive them when they can fully understand the situation.

    Through all this forgiveness and redemption, I think the last person to forgive Ms. Sharkey was herself. Often times, others are more willing to forgive and give people a second chance than we are to ourselves. I think it says something about Ms. Sharkey that she has been able to forgive herself and move on from this mistake.

  128. Felt the same way reading this blog post as I did during her presentation. Very well written. A common theme keeps popping up throughout or discussions, this blog post, and the different speakers. “Follow your gut.” We’re smart and intuitive professionals who have a strong sense of right and wrong. All we need is the courage to follow through with the correct actions.

  129. Helen Sharkey was by far my favorite guest speaker in ethics. The reason for this is she is one of the few people I have heard speak about their lives and I was drawn by every single word. She was an ordinary person with an ordinary life until that event had occurred. She wasn’t a greedy executive trying to mislead shareholders. She was like any other employee just doing what her boss told her to do. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from this class is that it could be you. It could be you going to jail for someone’s decision. It could be you falling victim to a Ponzi scheme. But if you abide by your ethical principals and trust your gut, maybe it will be someone else and not you who lives in regret.

  130. Well articulated recap of what must have been an amazing lecture to hear first-hand. Thank you for sharing, Dr. Shaub.

  131. Helen Sharkey used her unique experience and raw emotion to deliver to our class a truly captivating presentation. However, the thing that stood out to me about her presentation was not the facts she stated, but rather her as a person. After going through what Ms. Sharkey did, it would be very easy to try to hide in the shadows and want to be forgotten. I believe I can speak for our entire class when I say we are very glad she did not do that. Instead, she is being proactive and sharing her story with future accountants such as myself in order to educate us. It takes great courage for her to share her story the way she does and it is appreciated very much.

  132. Even though we reiterate again and again the consequences of participating in a fraud once we start our career as auditors, I believe Helen Sharkey’s presentation opened our eyes to the possibility of being put in those situations. It seems that all too often people get caught up in an “I’m invincible” mentality; people who drink and drive, text and drive, or continue to do other things that they know are endangering their lives and/or careers think that what has happened so many times to others will not happen to them. However, hearing Helen Sharkey’s story made me realize that no matter what level you are in an organization, at some point in your career you are likely to be put in a difficult ethical situation. I am glad that there are people like Helen Sharkey who realize that even though they have experienced tough times, the lessons they can teach us are extremely valuable.

  133. Helen Sharkey’s s story is truly sobering. I remember on my internship I would basically do whatever a person higher on the food chain would tell me to do without question. My whole goal was to do anything I could to please my co-workers and to get an offer so I could have a job after college. Hopefully, after hearing Helen’s story and taking this class I can be better prepared to identify a red flag. Helen’s story is extremely sad and I don’t think I will ever forget how easy it is to drop your guard and give into your superiors demands.

  134. Making decisions can be difficult at times, especially when there is risk. And it’s easy to complicate things further when you don’t operate from a position of self-trust. Helen Sharkey’s story exemplified that issue perfectly. So, I believe that when we are making difficult decisions in our future we need to take her advice and “ trust our gut instinct.” God speaks through our gut, that buried instinct He gave us. We seem to always ignore it, but it will never fail us if we take a moment to listen. As a result, we will be more decisive and make better decisions consistently.

  135. Her speech was incredibly impactful. My favorite thing was that she said she doesn’t hold a grudge against her supervisors because they have to live with the fact that 3 people had their lives so negatively impacted because of their actions. That takes a strong person.

  136. Wow! Helen’s speech was definitely impactful. I have so much respect for her honesty, humility, and courage to tell her story. I feel like I can truly relate to her story as entering the business world as a young professional. She trusted her boss and questioned her gut instinct because of her inexperience. I thing I can relate to this because there were times on my internship that I was told to do something and I did it without second thought because a person of authority was telling me to do so. Her story is a reminder that bad things happen to good people. I believe it is easy to distinguish what is right and what is wrong. The hard part is having the courage to follow through with what is right.

    The take away from this speech: “Follow your gut”

  137. Helen Sharkey’s presentation was a great reminder of how any one of us could fall into a sticky situation. It is not always bad people that get caught up in these frauds, but sometimes good people who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. Especially as a young professional, it would be easy to fall into the mistakes that Ms. Sharkey made. When you are young, you don’t know everything, and when your superiors are telling you that everyone else is doing things this way and that it is the right way to do it, you start doubting yourself. This is what happened to Helen and it could happen to any of us. Listen to your gut; it’s there for a reason.

  138. Helen Sharkey began her speech by explaining that one day she would have to explain to her twin boys why “Mommy is a felon”. The irony in this opening statement is profound. Because when I look at Helen Sharkey, I see a smart, honest, innocent, and STRONG woman…not typical characteristics of a felon.

    Sharkey’s courage to share her story is beyond admirable. As she shared her most intimate moments, including her humiliating strip search she faced in jail, I admired her even more. Her willingness to spare no details instilled both horror and reality within me. For the first time after learning about a scandal, I said to myself, “that could be me”.

    As her words literally gave me goose bumps, I couldn’t help but notice that she never once blamed anyone but herself. She explained her consequences were the result of self-doubt and failing to “trust her gut”. These words scared me, yet opened my eyes, because I am guilty of frequently doubting myself and my capabilities, as well as failing to “trust my gut.”

    Helen’s story will never be erased from my memory. Her story felt “real” to me, as if I were literally in her shoes experiencing her dilemma and hardships. I hope Helen recognizes the impact she has had on me and my peers, and many others to come. Her willingness to share her story is selfless and likely to prevent others from following down a similar path. So thank you Helen Sharkey. Thank you for investing in changing others’ lives, while enforcing that we should never give up on ourselves.

  139. Of all the speakers, I really feel that she spoke to me (and the rest of the class) on a more personal level. It’s crazy how this could have happened to anyone. You could hear how painful it was in her voice to recount everything that occurred, but she did it so that all of us students wouldn’t make the same mistakes. I’ll always remember to trust my gut.

  140. Helen Sharkey’s presentation had a huge effect on me. Listening to her story, I felt like it could happen to any one of us. The scariest part was that she even pushed back and showed doubts about the transaction, but her superiors went through with it anyway. She was the one that ended up being punished.

    It was great to see that our class had an effect on her as well. It was gratifying seeing all the thank you notes the class wrote to her in the Fox News story.

  141. Like Keshav, I think Helen was by far the most impactful speaker for me. While I was able to ask questions on both my engagements on my internship, I know one simple reply that it wasn’t a problem and they were too busy to explain right now would have been enough to make me forget about it and move on.

    As growing auditors, I feel like our best chance of avoiding of being in Helen’s shoes is to make sure we learn as much as quickly as we can, and if something feels particularly not right, to push the issue until we get an answer from somebody who we trust.

  142. What I keep thinking about is the fact that it took her 10 years to decide to finally come forward with the courage to tell her story. We may think that her “punishment” was the month she spent in prison, but this shows just how emotionally damaging such an event can be, and she didn’t even play a big role in it! She was certainly the best speaker we have had so far in this class, and I wanted to thank you for your efforts in making this happen. If any of us commit fraud after this, it’s going to require a lot of explaining (and soul-seeking) on our part.

  143. Like many other students in the class, I felt that Helen Sharky’s story had the largest impact on me. As others have pointed out, she seemed nothing like the power hungry executives that knowingly cheated people out of millions, if not billions, of dollars. The quote you pointed out that will stick with me most is when she admitted that, “For the first time in my life, I gave up on myself.” She made it very important to us that no matter the circumstances, you should always believe in yourself, and that if something doesn’t feel right in your gut, don’t do it. I am very thankful that she was willing to travel to Texas A&M to share her story in the hopes that it will help us when we are approached with difficult situations that could eventually change our lives forever. Her story will always be present in my thoughts, and I hope that I will never be in a situation where I realize that I have given up on myself.

    Wil Lakamsani

  144. One of my ethical principles was the following: “When something bad happens, you have three choices: you can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” Helen Sharky perfectly illustrated how to let a bad situation strengthen you! Sometimes, unfortunately, bad things happen to good people. But just because bad things happen/have happened to you, doesn’t mean they have to cripple you.

  145. There are few speakers that truly captivate a room full of students. During Helen’s time in our class you could hear a pen drop. Her story is so real and full of emotion that everyone felt the pressure behind the decisions she was making and consequences she had to endure not only every night but the 28 days she spend in federal prison. I took away from her story the fact that it’s tough to be honest with yourself. It’s hard to know when you have crossed that line of no return and to listen to your gut. It’s speakers like Helen that remind students like myself of the real decisions we will one day have to make and the importance of being true to yourself. We must know to seek others in times of uncertainty and believe in what we know to be right and wrong. While Helen is now googlable for her actions at Dynegy, I hope she is one day googlabel for the positive influence she has on others.

  146. Helen Sharkey and her story will undoubtedly stay with me forever. Since her visit to our ethics class, I have not stopped telling her story to anyone that will listen.

    Shock, empathy, fear, remorse, sorrow, relief, connection. The list of emotions I felt while sitting and soaking in Helen’s words could go on forever. However, my most prominent and lasting emotion is gratitude. I am so thankful that Helen shared her story with all of us. I am grateful not because of her story’s unique nature, but because her experience could truly happen to any single one of us. Helen’s actions, within her position at Dynegy, were not outrageously off base, in fact the opposite, they were normal. These actions that eventually led her to become a convicted felon, have become the conventional way for any subordinate employee to act towards their boss. We say to ourselves “I’m younger, less experienced, and therefore know less, so I should do what I’m told to keep my job.” But little do we know that exact attitude can land us in prison and “googlable” as a convicted felon.

    The familiarity of Helen’s story scared me to my core. With this, I can say that Helen Sharkey saved my life. That may seem a bit dramatic, but the awareness that she instilled in my classmates and me is invaluable. If it weren’t for her story I would have never realized how easy it is to comply and submit. I would have never realized how easily it could happen to me.

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