Thursday, December 2, 2010

Dark Anniversary

Nine years ago today, Enron declared bankruptcy. Coming as it did on the heels of the 9/11 attacks, the event deepened the country's despair. How had Enron deceived so many for so long? Fortune® magazine had ranked it "America's Most Innovative Company" for six years running and dubbed it one of the "100 Best Companies to Work for in America."

I always remember the words of a subsidiary head I interviewed for a book, a few months before Enron’s dirty dealings came to light. Let's call him X. “Enough of the widows-and-orphans stock mentality at this company. We’ve got to be more like Enron!” X declared. My recorder jumped as he pounded his desk for emphasis. I believe that "more like Enron” was simply his shorthand for “more innovative”—but X can only hope his transcript remains buried in his company's archives because his words could surely be used against him.

Funny, but after Enron self-destructed, X's company made its own financial stability and scandal-free history a subtle theme in its year-long centennial campaign. Suddenly it was a good thing (again) to be a widows-and-orphans stock with an unbroken record of paying dividends.