An Austin-based reporter delivers the behind-the-scenes story of Enron’s rise and fall.
As astonishing as the damage done by Enron to the American economy is the impunity with which the company operated when it was riding high in the go-go 1990s. Bryce, who understands the flamboyance built into Texas business culture, clarifies Enron’s muddled and deceptive accounting practices, deconstructs the bone-headed and perpetually hyped ventures (Enron as water giant! Enron as broadband marketeer!) while lacing his account with the sexual foibles that played a tacit part in creating the company’s anything-goes executive culture. Ken Lay set the tone by having a semi-public affair with his secretary while married to his first wife, whom Lay eventually divorced to marry the secretary. Other good-time guys at Enron included Rich Kinder, president of the company until 1996, ousted partly because Lay found out about Kinder's affair with Lay's executive assistant; Ken Rice, head of Enron's broadband division (though he knew nothing, and cared to know nothing, about broadband), who conducted public groping matches with his light of love; and Lou Pai, head of Enron Energy Services, whose taste for striptease joints was put on the company bill. Kinder's successor, the infamous Jeff Skillings, emerges in Bryce's account as the ultimate in CEO arrogance. Skillings was responsible for the two linked factors that did Enron in: accounting shenanigans and out-of-control costs. The off-the-records partnerships designed by CFO Andy Fastow hid Enron's mounting cash crisis and thus made sensible cost-control measures unlikely, especially given the executive team’s taste for sybaritic pleasures. Skillings created a system that rewarded revenue generation with huge bonuses, regardless of the earnings derived from the revenue-generating ventures. Enron's dealers and managers had no incentive to cut costs and could be rewarded generously for flops.
There are sure to be many accounts of Enron's collapse, but Bryce's gossipy version will be hard to beat for sheer readability.