From Bystander to Whistleblower: Dennis Gentilin on Creating a Speak Up Culture

Friday, 07 October 2016

Dennis Gentilin, a former National Australia Bank employee who blew the whistle on unethical banking practices, has highlighted the need for companies to create open and ethical cultures, especially for their younger employees.

Gentilin was a 29-year-old foreign exchange trader when he learned his colleagues were racking up hundreds of millions in trading losses and covering them up. His decision to speak up led to four NAB traders being jailed for unauthorised trading, which cost the bank $326 million in 2003/04, and ultimately led to the resignation of the company’s CEO Frank Cicutto and Chairman Charles Allen.

However in an in-depth interview with Company Director magazine, Gentilin says that when he first saw unethical practices at the bank, which was his first job out of university, he responded with by turning a blind eye rather than blowing the whistle.

“We fail to recognise, as people, how the environments which we operate and work in can actually shape our character,” says Gentilin.

“When you’re a young person and you enter the workforce, you really haven’t gone through that exercise where you think about what is important to you and what your values are. They tend to be dictated by your workplace, especially by the senior people in your workplace. “It’s difficult to admit but you could say that in some ways I was complicit for an extended period of time because the way that I chose to deal with it was to try and ignore the poor conduct.”

After leaving NAB in January this year and completing a psychology degree, Gentilin is now working with other businesses to help leaders create the conditions which promote ethical conduct.

Gentilin says creating a “speak up culture” was key to encouraging people to come forward and address organisational wrongdoings.

He also highlighted the importance of projects like Queensland’s Griffith University’s Whistling While They Work, which is collecting stories of whistleblowing in the public and private sectors where there was a positive outcome and the reasons for this. “I think we need more of those stories because unfortunately, the perception of whistleblowers at the moment is someone who has lifted the lid on a big scandal and paid high costs. I’d like to think there are a lot of examples where people have raised concerns internally and they haven’t suffered,” says Gentilin.

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