published Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

Speaker Mark Whitacre says he 'gave the steering wheel to God'

Mark Whitacre, a former Fortune 500 executive, ex-FBI informant and ex-convict, speaks to a large crowd gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast early Tuesday morning.
Mark Whitacre, a former Fortune 500 executive, ex-FBI informant and ex-convict, speaks to a large crowd gathered at the Chattanooga Convention Center for the Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast early Tuesday morning.
Photo by Dan Henry.

So bizarre was Mark Whitacre's life that one might suggest it be made into a movie.

And, indeed, it was.

What's not a part of the 2009 movie "The Informant!" -- in which Matt Damon played his part -- is his conversion to Christianity and the "miracles" that followed him into and out of prison and ever since.

The former Fortune 500 executive, FBI informant and ex-convict explained the rest of the story to a record Chattanooga Area Leadership Prayer Breakfast crowd of nearly 1,700 on Tuesday at the Chattanooga Convention Center.

"Finally when I gave the steering wheel to God," Whitacre said, "he got me on the right track."

He had plenty of chances to turn his life around -- after his wife persuaded him to turn himself in when he revealed to her a price-fixing scheme he was involved in at Archer Daniels Midland, when he wore an FBI wire for three years to expose other executives at ADM and when he was offered a six-month sentence following the revelation of his separate $9 million fraud of ADM -- but he failed to take them up.

"I was my own worst enemy every step of the way," Whitacre said.

So it wasn't until prison, after he'd made "a train wreck of my life," after he'd tried to kill himself twice, after he'd lost his house, cars and stock holdings, that he surrendered his life to God.

"I found peace and contentment when I still had nine and a half years left in prison," Whitacre said, having been sentenced to 10 and a half years after turning down the six-month plea deal.

Not only did he realize prison would "be the beginning of your life, not the end," as he'd been told by a discipling friend, but his wife remained by his side. Some of the same companies negatively affected by the price-fixing scheme also assisted his family while he was in prison, and he found he was still sought as an executive after he served his time.

If he had accepted the six-month prison sentence, said Whitacre, 55, now president and chief operating office of Cypress Systems, a biotechnology firm, he would have left prison as the same man who went it.

"That [longer sentence] was a net gain," he said. "Those things only happen when God is touching hearts."

Several in attendance at the prayer breakfast were amazed at the sequence of events that occurred to land Whitacre where he is today.

Werner Slabber, of Signal Mountain, said the speaker, throughout his life, displayed a "personality of perseverance."

"I was inspired by the fact [he was able to] come back to society and be accepted," he said. "It's truly a miracle."

That same personality, Richard Johnson said, caused him to reject the six-month plea deal and seek a better deal at trial.

In the end, said Mark Hays, "I was inspired that he had risen to such a position, and it was his family that brought him back."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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