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Business School for Scientists — STEM Path to the MBA

Katie Heywood, project manager for HealthSpring in Birmingham. Photo by Cary Norton

When she entered the University of Alabama almost 10 years ago, Katie Heywood knew she wanted to work in health care. Motivated and inspired by a college-level anatomy and physiology class she had in high school in Cincinnati, Heywood planned to eventually practice medicine.

Although her focus of study would be the sciences, Heywood was attracted to a then-new program at UA — the STEM Path to the MBA. The program allows science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) majors to weave honors business courses into their undergraduate curriculum before completing an MBA in only one additional year of study.

“I knew, no matter what, I was going to need some kind of business knowledge,” Heywood says. “Most undergraduate prerequisites aren’t in accounting or finance, and basic life skills are learned in classes like that. So, I was like, ‘OK, I’m going to need this.’ ”

During her junior year, Heywood realized she no longer wanted to be a doctor. “I couldn’t see doing it the rest of my life,” she says. “I’m one of those who always asks, ‘OK, what’s next?’ I wanted to continue to grow and challenge myself to do different things.”

Rob Morgan, director of the STEM Path to the MBA program at UA, suggested Heywood consider the possibility of working for a health care company as opposed to practicing medicine. She remained in the STEM/MBA program and now is a project manager for HealthSpring in Birmingham.

“If you had asked me as a freshman, I would not have thought I would be working for a health care company as a project manager,” she says. “I thought I was going to be a PA or PT or pharmacist. I looked at everything. But that wasn’t what I enjoyed. When I sat down and really looked at it, I enjoyed learning about the many different aspects of health care. The STEM/MBA program provided an avenue that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

One of Heywood’s classmates in the STEM Path to the MBA program was Samantha Whorton, who now works as an engineer at Alabama Power Co. in Birmingham. At one time, “I was debating on changing majors, when I heard about the STEM Path to the MBA program,” Whorton says.

“I had been interested in business, but I wasn’t sure what segment of business. I didn’t know it was possible to put both technical and business together, but once I learned that it was, there was no looking back for me. The ability to learn more about business skills while working towards my engineering degree was exciting.”

For Los Angeles native Joseph Wolfe, Alabama’s STEM Path to the MBA program “was all about getting school done in one go. I always knew that I wanted an MBA because I wanted to go into engineering management long-term and believed that it would be useful for that career path.

“But I didn’t want to spend an extra two years somewhere down the line either, going back to school full time or taking night/weekend classes. Getting the MBA in just one extra year before entering the workforce was a much more attractive option,” says Wolfe, now a project manager at Adtran in Huntsville.

Heywood, Whorton and Wolfe all agree that communication skills attained through experiential learning were the most important part of the STEM/MBA program. Much of that came from doing innovative problem solving in teams.

Says Heywood: “I think it’s great to do well in the classroom when you’re in college, but in the STEM program and all the MBA classes, they force you to work with people on projects from day one, whether you want to or not. That’s more real world, more applicable to the work force, as opposed to just sitting behind your computer getting straight A’s by yourself.

“You’re having to collaborate with people from different backgrounds. And you’re graded as a team. You’re not graded as me, Katie. You’re graded as Katie and whoever else is on your team.”

Working in teams taught those in the STEM/MBA program communication skills both for presenting before a group and for communicating with other team members. Assignments for those teams range from executing projects for companies to addressing various issues in Alabama — food scarcity, for example.

“As an incoming freshman, I was not the most outgoing person,” Heywood says. “I had ideas but never shared them. I was a follower, not a leader. Well, in the STEM program, you had to lead the team. That taught me public speaking skills that I never would have attained outside the program. Now I speak in front of hospital systems, physicians, you name it, and I don’t bat an eye. It does not bother me one bit. But if you had asked me to do that as a freshman, that would have been my worst nightmare.”

The program also emphasized persuasion skills in dealing with others. “It taught you to realize that sometimes you put your pride aside and admit you’re not always right,” Heywood says. “Especially in the STEM program, you’re with a lot of very, very high-achieving, high-performing students who aren’t used to not being liked, not used to somebody else having an idea that might be better than theirs.

“It takes a bit of humility to be in class with a bunch of people who are so incredibly intelligent, some of the smartest, brightest people I’ve ever met in my entire life, and yet I’m sitting in their classroom with them, learning beside them, and there were times when they would say, ‘You know what, you’re right.’”

The first STEM Path to the MBA class started in 2011, with 46 students, and its various offerings have come to include team studies abroad in China, India, Europe and other locations. Three years ago, UA started a companion program — the CREATE Path to the MBA — and today the two programs have a combined 1,100 students. Both require a 28 ACT score or equivalent and a 3.5 high school GPA.

“The CREATE Path is for students who chose to go into journalism, advertising, dance or music, apparel/textile design, theater or disciplines we consider to be highly creative,” says Morgan, Phifer Fellow and professor of marketing in UA’s Culverhouse College of Commerce. “We mixed those students in with STEM students, and that’s been a real positive for both sides.”

Roughly 75 percent of students in the two programs are from out of state, and about half of those who finish the MBA portion of the program are female. Of those who start the program, roughly 30 percent complete the MBA portion.

Morgan travels the middle of the road when asked about differences between the STEM and CREATE students. “They’re all just so bright,” he says. “I’m not sure there is really much of a difference between them,” he says.

Charlie Ingram and Cary Norton are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Both are based in Birmingham.

UA Analyzes Hemp Plant

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Lucasz Ciesla holds hemp extract as part of his lab’s research with the plant.

Alabama’s fledgling hemp industry is getting some help from the University of Alabama.

In a recently signed agreement between UA and The Wemp Co., of Dallas County, Assistant Professor of Biological Sciences Lukasz Ciesla will analyze the hemp the company grows on its 20-acre farm to determine the plant’s chemical make-up. The Wemp Co. is one of 200 licensed growers of industrial hemp in the state.

“Hemp is a new agricultural product in the state of Alabama, and the industry is not sure how the climate and soil make-up of the state is going to impact the levels of certain chemicals,” said Ciesla. “We are excited to fully characterize the product to contribute to a program with great potential to enhance the regional economic system.”

The Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Farm Bill, declassified hemp as an illegal drug, deeming hemp as an agricultural commodity that can be grown, processed and handled only by those with licenses from the states’ agricultural departments. In Alabama, the Alabama Department of Agriculture & Industries launched the Alabama Industrial Hemp Research and Pilot Program in January.

The Farm Bill defines hemp as all parts of the cannabis plant containing less than 0.3% of the chemical tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, including derivatives, extracts and cannabinoids. THC is the main psychoactive chemical in marijuana.

Ciesla, who studies chemical compounds in natural products, will examine the plants to check the level of non-psychoactive compounds to help select the best cultivars, and to control the quality of final products, including the CBD isolate. CBD stands for cannabidiol, which some researchers say has health benefits.

His lab will analyze the full CBD oil chemical profile, including selected cannabinoids along with terpenes.

“The only thing anyone cares about right now is the level of THC, so we can know if it’s legal,” Ciesla said.

There aren’t any regulations concerning levels of other chemicals produced by hemp, for example CBD. His work with The Wemp Co. will ensure the hemp grown and processed is not only legal, but contains levels of CBD the company desires in its products and does not contain harmful levels of other chemicals, such as pesticide, herbicide or mycotoxin residues, Ciesla said.

Besides ensuring quality in the product, Ciesla said access to hemp will allow his lab group to find other non-psychoactive compounds that could potentially be used in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases.

UA Rolls Out Research Partnership Opportunity

The University of Alabama recently launched a way for your company to get complex research done, on a sponsorship basis, and retain some of the intellectual property that’s eventually created.

Called the Tide Research Partnership Program, it aims to strengthen research and development partnerships with industry, while accelerating opportunities for students to work on solutions to some of society’s most challenging problems.

The program encourages companies to sponsor research opportunities at UA. Upfront costs are set for exclusive rights to possible intellectual property created by UA researchers while also increasing the percentage that inventors receive of future royalty payments.

“This new program encourages faculty participation and provides the direct opportunity for our faculty and students to benefit from strong research partnerships with industry,” said UA President Stuart Bell. “We believe this program will contribute to a fundamental change in the way industry interacts with UA that will extend well beyond any single research project.

The Tide Research Partnership Program allows a company an option to pre-pay a fee when executing a sponsored research agreement in exchange for exclusive worldwide rights to inventions that may result from the research. Under the agreement, a portion of the upfront fee goes to the academic division and academic department that are part of the agreement, along with a portion that is shared with the principal inventor(s) on the project.

UA gets 1 percent in royalties when the net sales of commercialized products using the technology exceed $10 million annually. Resulting royalties received from commercialized technologies will be shared per UA’s standard policy, except inventors will receive a larger percentage of royalty payments after expenses than in a traditional agreement.

Companies can still choose the traditional option of negotiating a royalty-bearing licensing at the time of an invention. This program does not apply to research funded through government or non-profit organizations. Licensing of intellectual property that receives federal funding is subject to other terms.

A Large Gift Cements a Legacy at UA

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The late Gen. Everett Holle (left) with University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences Dean Mark Nelson in 2015, when Holle was inducted into the C&IS Hall of Fame.

The Holle Family Foundation has committed a $10 million gift to the University of Alabama College of Communication and Information Sciences — a tribute to Brigadier General Everett Hughes Holle and the largest gift ever to the school — and UA will name its new Center for Communication Arts in Holle’s honor.

Holle graduated from the university in 1950, joining the U.S. Army as a radio/television/motion picture officer and acting as the Army’s network liaison. Upon his return to Birmingham, he became a member of the 87th U.S. Army Maneuver Area Command, where he held several positions until his retirement in 1985.

Holle also had a 40-year career in the Birmingham television industry at WAPI (now WVTM) NBC 13 and was active in numerous civic organizations.

“We are honored to permanently associate General Holle, a paragon of the communication industry, with excellence and creativity in communication arts at the University of Alabama,” said UA President Stuart Bell. The gift will establish the Holle Center for Communication Arts, an interdisciplinary center in C&IS.

“As the cornerstone of the Holle legacy, the Holle Center will distinguish itself nationally as a highly visible interdisciplinary platform that builds capacity for critical thinking, engenders empathy and prepares students to be active and engaged citizens capable of succeeding in any career path in the context of the digital age,” said Mark Nelson, dean of C&IS.

Pending approval of the UA Board of Trustees, the gift establishes the Holle Endowed Chair of Communication Arts, enhances existing space to house the Holle Center for Communication Arts, provides permanent program support for the C&IS Hall of Fame and the Holle Awards for Excellence in Creativity in Communication, and enhances the Everett Hughes Holle Endowed Scholarship, established in 2009.

The Holle Awards for Excellence in Creativity in Communication were established by Holle in 2015 to reward student achievement in the areas of book arts, filmmaking, media writing, public speaking and screenwriting.

Holle was inducted into the C&IS Hall of Fame in 2015. He passed away in 2017.

“The world’s complex social, cultural and political environment demands the highest levels of communication skills to create lasting solutions to difficult problems,” said Patrick O’Neil, chair of the Holle Family Foundation. “The UA-HFF partnership will provide an environment and academic structure for future students to nurture and employ these much-needed talents.”

Preparation Underway for Bryant-Denny Stadium Addition

Staff members of Caddell Construction already have begun fast-tracking University of Alabama stadium renovations through preconstruction activities.

As the Crimson Tide took to the field at Bryant-Denny Stadium this past weekend, employees at Caddell Construction were busy too — laying out their plan for the University of Alabama’s stadium renovation and addition, a project totaling $84.6 million.

While the construction work won’t start until the final whistle blows on the 2019 football season, the preconstruction activities already have begun.

The project includes stadium improvements designed to enhance the fan and student experience, with additional premium seating, new social spaces, adding elevators to the upper levels and replacing existing scoreboards with four video scoreboards that are 60 percent larger.

“Fast-tracking will be absolutely critical for project success,” says Caddell Executive Vice President Mac Caddell. “In fact, there’s not one part of this project that won’t be fast. It’s a fast-paced job, and we’re excited to tackle it.”

Once the final whistle blows, demolition will begin. Construction will take place in five different areas around the stadium and in the middle of the active college campus. All of the project is scheduled to be complete before the football season kickoff in 2020.

“Our people thrive on the challenges presented by this project. We have assembled an outstanding team of construction professionals to undertake this endeavor, and I am confident they will be successful,” says Caddell President and CEO Eddie Stewart.

The stadium was originally built in 1929 as Denny Stadium, named after UA President George Denny, who started his tenure at the university in 1912, kicking off an era of growth in both students and buildings on campus. It was renamed Bryant-Denny Stadium in 1975, after legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. Since 1937, the stadium has been expanded eight times and has a current seating capacity of 101,821, ranking it seventh on the list of American football stadiums based on seating capacity.

UA, Auburn Team Up for Traffic Safety

Alabama’s top sports rivals are working together with the state to make Alabama’s highways safer.

Governor Kay Ivey awarded Auburn University, the University of Alabama and the Alabama Department of Public Health a $3.3 million grant to compile data, develop media campaigns and conduct a safety campaign toward properly securing children in child safety seats.

The University of Alabama’s Center for Advanced Public Safety was awarded $1.9 million to develop programs and compile data on crashes, seatbelt use and other statistical information that will help the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and other agencies pinpoint where crashes often occur, leading to more patrols and checkpoints in those areas.

Auburn University’s Media Production Group was awarded a total of $1.1 million for media campaigns to warn motorists of the dangers of driving while texting and/or impaired and not wearing seatbelts.

The Alabama Department of Public Health will use a $60,000 grant to maintain a database involving the types of injuries suffered by people involved in automobile crashes and their health statuses. The federally required information is added to a nationwide database. Additionally, a $200,000 grant will provide a three-day training course for child safety seat certification and will enable the department to conduct programs throughout the state to teach motorists the proper techniques for installing child safety seats and fastening children in the seats.

The Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs is administering the grants from funds made available through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the state Traffic Safety Trust Fund.

Promoting Entrepreneurship with New Collaboration

A push by The University of Alabama to promote entrepreneurship throughout the Tuscaloosa region is increasing with a realignment of resources to better support innovators.

The Bama Technology Incubator, an on-campus laboratory space, will change its name to Edge Labs, serving as a counterpart to The Edge, a 26,000-square-foot, off-campus business incubator that opened in February as a collaboration among UA, the city of Tuscaloosa and the Chamber of Commerce of West Alabama.

Edge Labs features laboratories and equipment that new businesses need, as well as the technical infrastructure that will help UA faculty, researchers and students develop and test processes and prototypes that can be translated into products for the marketplace.

“Among the strategic goals of The University of Alabama is improving the impact of activities that positively affect regional economic development,” says UA President Stuart Bell. “This restructuring of our resources will go a long way toward meeting that shared goal.”

The name change to Edge Labs represents a shift of purpose for the facility.

“The goal of this change is to further align the ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship on the UA campus and in the Tuscaloosa area,” says Russell Mumper, UA vice president for research and economic development. “This partnership is a collaboration between UA’s Office for Research and Economic Development and the Culverhouse College of Business.”

The university’s Alabama Entrepreneurship Institute, or AEI, is a program managed by the Culverhouse College of Business, and will integrate Edge Labs into an overall suite of resources to support new and established business growth.

“There will now be a pipeline that directly connects the new and established entrepreneurs and business advisors at The Edge with the technical experts who are in place at Edge Labs,” says Theresa Welbourne, executive director of AEI.

The Edge, located about 1.5 miles from the UA campus, is an $11.7 million facility that includes 20 offices, 100 workstations and several conference rooms, all offered to entrepreneurs, people seeking to build their businesses and individuals who need networking and working space. The Edge Labs is located on the northern end of the UA campus, close to the Ferguson Student Center.

For more information on AEI, visit entrepreneurship.ua.edu.

Should Irrigation-Fed Farming Increase in the Deep South?

Hamid Moradkhani, director of the Center for Complex Hydrosystems Research at the University of Alabama

Irrigation-fed farming is not as commonplace as the average person probably thinks it is, especially not in the humid and wet South.

Seventeen western states in the U.S. make up three-quarters of all irrigated farmed acres, and in California nearly half of all farmland is irrigated, according to the latest federal data.

In contrast, only about 4 percent of farmland is irrigated in Alabama, but the state is also the fourth wettest in the nation.

A study being conducted by University of Alabama researchers will take a look at whether more irrigation could lead to a more robust agriculture industry. The four-year, $1.75 million grant will examine how a transition from rain-fed farming to irrigation-fed farming could impact harvests and water use, providing data to policymakers considering initiatives to encourage irrigation.

“As agriculture plays a significant role in the economies of the Deep South, one potential option for their economic resurgence is through a drastic increase in agricultural productivity,” said lead principal investigator Hamid Moradkhani, the Alton N. Scott Endowed Professor of Engineering and director of UA’s Center for Complex Hydrosystems Research.

The study will look at the Mobile River Basin, the 44,600 square miles that drain into Mobile Bay that includes central Alabama and portions of eastern Mississippi and northwest Georgia. The researchers will examine how the linked resources of food, water and energy within the basin would be impacted through a transition to irrigation farming.

The team will use computer modeling to determine how various levels of irrigation would affect agriculture productivity, energy production, water supply and waterway navigation. Researchers also will work with 60 farmers within the basin to evaluate the openness to transitioning to irrigation, evaluating the influence climatology, sociology and economic factors have on farmers’ decisions.

Although it could be an expensive transition for an existing farm, irrigation can ease farms through droughts and yield greater harvests, even in normal years, with great economic benefits.

“This project will help identify the barriers and incentives needed to spur transition to irrigation-fed farming in the Deep South, enabling informed decision-making by lawmakers,” Moradkhani said.

Along with Moradkhani, the team includes UA researchers Mukesh Kumar, Hamed Moftakhari, Glenn Tootle and Nicholas Magliocca, and Auburn University Professor of Agricultural Economics and Rural Sociology Denis Nadolnyak.

When Do You Call in the Fraud Team?

Every company needs a fraud response plan, says Kelly Todd, managing member and the member in charge of forensic investigations at Forensic Strategic Solutions LLC, of Birmingham.

“Occupation fraud” — committed against a company by its own officers, directors or employees — “is likely the largest and most prevalent threat,” according to a 2018 report compiled by the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners.

The ACFE also reports these statistics for U.S. fraud cases:

• Average loss — $100,000
• Median duration before detection — 16 months
• Corruption — 30 percent of total cases
• Means of detection — a tip, 37 percent of the time

Nonetheless, the percentage of cases referred for prosecution has dropped 16 percent in 10 years, most commonly because the victim organization feared bad publicity.

Accounting shenanigans that prop up securities was the biggest fraud category, reaching historic highs in 2018.

Kelly Todd (right), who leads the investigation team at Forensic Strategic Solutions, reviews files with forensic analyst and investigative accountant Erica Hale. Photo by Art Meripol

According to corpgov.law.harvard.edu, in 2018, “Securities class action filings involving accounting allegations remained at uncharacteristically high levels as the trend of core filings against larger defendant firms continued.

“There were 143 securities class actions involving accounting allegations (accounting case filings) during 2018, nearly 86 percent more than the historical average.”

The report also stated, “The number of accounting cases containing an allegation and announcement of internal control weaknesses exceeded the historical average for the sixth consecutive year.”

Given all of this, the accounting industry, specifically the auditing sector, is looking for ways to reform the auditing process, where independence from the company being audited and ethical conduct is paramount.

Clive Viegas Bennett, CEO of MGI Worldwide, writes in Accountancy Age, “The huge independence edifice is built on quicksand because the auditors are paid directly by the companies they audit.”

A prime example of the issues facing the auditing world is the case involving accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers, the Federal Insurance Deposit Corp. and what used to be Alabama’s third largest bank, Colonial.

Earlier this year, PricewaterhouseCoopers announced that it has settled with the FDIC for $335 million over its audits of Colonial Bank, which failed during a financial crisis. The suit was related to professional negligence claims brought by the FDIC against PwC coming out of the firm’s audit of Colonial. The FDIC sought to hold PwC liable for not detecting fraud during audits of Colonial Bank, and a federal judge said the accounting giant had not designed its audits to detect fraud. An Alabama federal district court had earlier awarded damages of $625 million to the FDIC.

“I consider auditor independence to be a misnomer,” says Todd DeZoort, professor of accounting in the Culverhouse College of Commerce and the University of Alabama’s Durr-Fillauer Chair in Business Ethics. “While some auditors should be careful to manage their financial and relational dependencies on a client, I believe auditor independence is impossible in our current system. My research indicates that stakeholders are interested in auditor reliability, which flows from auditor integrity, expertise, independence and pursuit of objectivity.”

DeZoort says a quality audit “should help a client clean up financial reporting and internal control problems that, if unaddressed, can be catastrophic to a company. The audit function is there to serve the public interest and protect very vulnerable stakeholders in a very complicated and high risk reporting environment.”

DeZoort teaches a seven-step fraud risk management model that includes fraud risk governance, fraud risk assessment, prevention, investigation, reporting, mediation and, last but not least, detection, which is where Todd and her troops come in.

Todd DeZoort, accounting professor at the University of Alabama, says “The audit function is there to serve the public interest and protect very vulnerable stakeholders in a very complicated and high risk reporting environment.”

Forensic accounting, according to DeZoort, is more focused on risk assessment and investigation, while fraud prevention is the responsibility of management and internal auditing.

In her work as a forensic accountant and fraud examiner, Todd works closely with defense and plaintiff attorneys, audit committees, corporate boards and government inspector generals. Her experience in litigation consulting includes services in civil proceedings, including the calculation of economic damages in a broad range of personal and corporate disputes. Todd has testified as an expert witness in federal and state courts.

“I think one of the things that is important to keep in mind,” Todd says, “is while, yes, every company should have a fraud response plan, there really is a dividing line between companies based on their size and what they are capable of from a resource standpoint. You are going to tend to see response plans and protective detection and that sort of thing in a much larger company, because they have the resources to do it.”

Todd points out that fraud is not something that happens every day. “It is not a normal occurrence in a business.”

And while much of today’s corporate fraud may be linked to technology, technology is “having a huge and growing impact on auditing and fraud examination,” says DeZoort. “For example, we are seeing a surge in the use of artificial intelligence in both auditing and fraud examination, allowing advanced data analytics involving 100 percent of transactions rather than just traditional random samples.

“We see anti-fraud professionals conducting more advanced quantitative and qualitative data analytics with technology, including data mining, digital analysis and linguistic text analysis.”

“When we go in, or a business suspects that there is a problem, one of the first things we want to do generally is ask for mirror images of the computers,” Todd says. “So if the business doesn’t realize, or hasn’t thought through how they are going to respond to the event, how they handle the evidence, or potentially the event, they may not even recognize what could potentially be evidence, that if handled improperly, by the wrong people or just handled improperly in general, could render that potential evidence useless in a court of law.”

She says handling electronic information, handling employees and suspects can be tricky for a company if there is no plan. “And a lot of times when there is no one suspected, they may have no idea who may be involved. And so it is just thinking through those initial steps in how to deal with something that a business is not accustomed to dealing with on a daily basis,” Todd says.

Todd says her firm has been using data analytics or data mining for 20 years. “Now, artificial intelligence is really changing the landscape as far as the ability to proactively look for fraud, or just patterns of wrongdoing. I think it is going to change the accounting profession. What it is not going to do, though, is once the patterns are identified, it is not going to be able to go and investigate the fraud, and it is not going to be able to develop the evidence and interviews. While it may change the initial detection, it is not going to change the investigative part of it.”

Todd says it is important to separate prevention and detection from investigation. “Detection could happen internally in a company. But from our standpoint, because we are outside, we are typically called in when a company believes it has a problem, or they may have detected something, but they don’t have the resources to actually investigate and develop the evidence to take it to law enforcement.

“Fraud, for us, is really about looking for the footprint of the beast. Fraud leaves a pattern, leaves trends in the data, or in the financial statements or in any various financial reports. And so what we are doing, we are going in and, based on what the company may believe has happened, we work under what is known as the fraud theory approach. We form a hypothesis based on what we believe may have happened, and then we test that hypothesis through document review, collection of electronic evidence, accounting transactions, that sort of thing, and then interviewing. And we generally go from the general to the specific. As we are making our way through our investigation, we start with the big picture, and follow that trail to more specific information and eventually work our way into some kind of solution, depending on what the client is looking for. If it is looking for a confession from the suspect, then the specific is going into seeking a confession through an interview.”

Todd says there is often an “aha” moment in the investigation — when  investigators are following one path “and all of a sudden something unleashes, and we are ‘Oh my gosh, you are not going to believe this. It is this person as opposed to that person.’”

Todd says a high percentage of fraud cases settle out of court or in guilty pleas. Forensic accountants are sometimes called the “detectives of the accounting world,” and Todd says there are some key things to look for when questioning people involved in suspected company fraud.

“Forever, people thought it was about body language,” Todd says, “and while body language is important, it is only one of many ways to tell if someone is being deceptive with you. The more things that are happening across various channels if you will, speech, a tone of voice and the jittery body language, the more of those that are happening at one time, the more likely it is that the person is being deceptive. The key is to be able to identify their baseline, what is normal for that person.”

Todd says, “If you think fraud is not going to happen, you are wrong because it is, but when it does, do not take matters into your own hands, and be certain to put together a team of experts that know what they are doing.”

Bill Gerdes and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. Gerdes is based in Hoover and Meripol in Birmingham.

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