Monday, November 27, 2006

The Lost Scandal of Enron

This weekend I watched, "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room." I was impressed with the movie and appalled even beyond what I expected at what went on. I knew Skilling, Lay, and Fastow were scumbags, and that Arther Andersen couldnt seem to question what was right in front of them. But what I never realized (at least if you accept the view taken by the filmmakers) the extent to which those individuals running the company were able to influence the entire corporate culture.

This comes accross in the movie as being far more than a few bad apples at the top manipulating earnings and running the company into the ground for their own gain. Skilling in particular seemed to press an attitude so concerned with "I" that it forgot about "we". Even extending to lower level employees there seemed to be an attitude that "if I have to walk over 100 people to make an extra buck I'll do that." One scene discussed Enron's retention and promotion practices in which all employees would vote on each others performance, so there was an incentive to try to force anyone out who might get in the way of individual advancement. This had the perverse incentive of sometimes driving more talented people out of the company. There was a whole series of scenes discussing Enron's manipulation of the California energy market. They were able to obtain audio conversations from the Enron offices from this time for the film, and the conversations were appalling. These people all knew what they were doing to California and Californians, and they acted like it was some funny game to watch people suffer.

Talk about banality of evil, Skilling was able to create a culture that rewarded greed so heavily that everyone in the company knowingly contributed to what any reasonable sense of right and wrong should have lead them to know is unnacceptable. It reversed the moral order to where the goal was to harm people rather than to prevent harm as long as it benefitted Enron and the people carrying out its nefarious activities. It seems like the only person with enough sense to try to change anything was Sherron Watkins, the rest of Enron's employees who knew something was wrong it seemed were too afraid of some harm to themselves or too attached to the benefits Enron was bringing them at the time to make any effort to change anything. It seems that nobody bothered to, as Enron's slogan stated "Ask Why".

I thought it was a very well done and insightful documentary, if you havent seen it you should.

1 comment:

Chuck Butcher said...

Thanks for bringing back the depth and breadth of the pollution of that corporation's culture, it's been swept under the "honchos" rug.