HealthSouth whistleblower Weston Smith highlights business ethics focus at CSC

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CSC 2013 Day 2.1 (2)
(l to r) Lipscomb College of Business Dean Turney Stevens, former HealthSouth CFO Weston Smith, and former U.S. Attorney General of Middle Tennessee Ed Yarbrough.

A focus on business ethics was the theme of day two of the 33rd annual Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars’ Conference at Lipscomb University, as national leaders in the field made presentations in many of 48 paper and panel sessions.

Weston Smith, former CFO of HealthSouth in Birmingham, Ala., and known as the the whistleblower on Richard Scrushy’s billion-dollar fraud, spoke to a luncheon audience along with Ed Yarbrough, former U.S. Attorney General for Middle Tennessee.

The luncheon talk titled, “Felon and Prosecutor: Anatomy of a White Collar Crime,” was sponsored by Lipscomb’s Dean Institute for Corporate Governance and Integrity.

“The culture there was one of win at any cost,” said Smith, describing HealthSouth. He told a story about former CEO Scrushy hiring former professional football players to play on the company softball team just so the team wouldn’t lose so often.

“If there is a fear to tell the CEO the truth, that is when it goes over the line,” he said.

Yarbrough noted that he believes there is much more white collar fraud in the Nashville and Middle Tennessee area than the public realizes. He blames the lack of media coverage as one reason the public is in the dark about the fraud around them.

Smith, who is a Christian and grew up in a church culture, said his dilemma made him realize just how shallow his belief system was. Today when he speaks to youth, he encourages them to ask “What is the foundation in your life that will keep you from slipping and making the mistakes I did,” he said.

In an afternoon session, documentary film director Brad Lichtenstein moderated a discussion of the role of morality in business success before an audience who saw his film As Goes Janesville on Wednesday night. The film depicts the human cost of economic change in Janesville, Wis., after the shutting down of the town’s century-old GM plant.

The discussion session included Tom Brewer, former GM executive and current president of the Tennessee Automotive Manufacturers Association, and Michael Herron, chairman, United Auto Workers Local 1853, Spring Hill.

Brewer, who has closed two plants during his career and was involved in the process to idle the Spring Hill, Tenn., plant, noted that automotive plant closures affect more than blue collar workers. As a GM executive, he also had to decide whether to retire, transfer to a new plant or find a new job with another company. “It’s devastating,” he said.

At one point Herron and other panelists noted the negative effects of the polarization of society, which is squeezing the  middle class economically, they said. “If people want to create jobs in the U.S., the people need to demand that producers manufacture their products in the U.S.,” he said.

Another afternoon session featuring the presidents of Harding University, Lubbock Christian University, Lipscomb University and the president emeritus of Abilene Christian University in a discussion of "After Penn State: What did we learn, What have we changed, How now shall we lead?"

"As college presidents, there are so many aspects of an institution of higher learning that we have to be aware of," said L. Randolph Lowry, Lipscomb president. "There are the legal, ethical, practical, academic, public relations asepcts ... college presidents have to walk all of these aspects of a university at the same time. There is also a shepherding aspect of your employees and an obligation that goes well beyond merely employing them. Character has to be pervasive throughout the institution. If there is a problem with character within your employee base, it's a reflection on your character as a president. Same goes for our coaches and the student athletes they recruit."

Lowry said that he believes coaches need to take the same approach to running an athletic team as a dean or department head runs their program. He has challenged Lipscomb coaches to develop strategic plans for their programs that focus on recruiting, academic success, character developing, playing strategy, spiritual formation and community engagement.

Friday was capped off in the afternoon by a plenary session featuring David Miller, founding director of Princeton University’s Faith & Work Initiative, speaking on “God at Work.”

The Christian Scholars’ Conference includes one additional free event and one additional ticketed event that are open to the general public.

  • John Dean, former White House counsel to President Richard Nixon and one of the major players in the historic Watergate scandal, will speak on “The Ethical Legacy of Watergate,” Saturday at 10:45 a.m. in Collins Alumni Auditorium.
  • The Blackbird Theater, Lipscomb's theater-troupe-in-residence, presents Oleanna, by David Mamet, Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and this Sunday, at 2:30 p.m. in Shamblin Theatre. Click here to go to the online ticket purchase site.

For a full schedule of the conference activities go to