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Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Posted by Shellian A. Murray.

The basis for this blog will be an Enron story” The Smartest Guys in the Room (2005)” which was retrieved from the documentary listings on Netflix. A 2929 Entertainment, a Wagner/Cuban Company, Magnolia Pictures, HDNet Films. The documentary takes a behind the scenes look at the reliable energy company whose downfall will forever change the scope of business prospects around the globe. The “Jesus saves” notion was embedded with everyone asking the same sets of questions, which include, whether or not one main person was to be blamed, or it is a shared effort, and what mechanisms were put in places to make sure such events will never occur again. The fall of Enron was considered to be the largest bankruptcy in the United States of America history.

Enron, a company that took approximately 16 years to build and with a net worth of over a 100 million in assets took 24 days to go bankrupt.  What everyone thought was a significant investment and a company that was poised to take over the energy section with major gas prices, turns out to be the biggest Ponzi scheme. But in an instructive tale of corporate greed, negligent and diffusion of responsibility, there was no evidence of directors’ fiduciary duty, integrity, and stewardship displayed from those who were the leading players in the Enron scandal.

Jeffery Skilling, the former president and CEO and Kenneth Lay chairman/CEO were both Harvard graduates, the leaders of Enron, and were known as “the smartest guys in the room.”  Skilling and Lay were the captains of the ship; one that they thought was too powerful to go down. The employees that were involved were consumed by pride, greed, arrogance, and intolerance that they fail to realize they were just sinking themselves into a hole: a hole that will be unable to climb back out. The chaos caused by Enron traders in the 2000 California energy crisis left many disgruntled. California was seen as the money pit for Enron. The game was to create blackouts that would then drive-up gas prices significantly.  Many called on the federal government to fix a deregulatory system that Enron officials took for self-interest, but were told that the state was on its own and had to correct the problem by themselves.

On the other hand, Enron’s CFO, Andrew Fastow was still able to continue leaving massive debts off the balance sheets and booking future earnings, producing an illusion of market-to-market profit.  The Security Exchange Commission (SEC) did not have a problem with this accounting method and failed to enforce against companies like Enron. But reported profits were actually losses, even though amounts were not collected or collected, but were supposedly prepayments from clients, where such momentum was created to keep the stock price up.  But after winning the award for the best innovative company six years in a row, many persons started to question, how Enron made its money. A reporter by the name of Bethany Mclean wrote an article, “Enron stock overpriced?”  realizing that the cash flows were not coming together.

Jeffery Skilling the CEO had resigned suddenly, which lead the SEC to launch an investigation.  Enron declared bankruptcy on December 4, 2001, giving employees thirty (30mins) to leave the building. But before such bankruptcy declaration, on October 23, 2001, Author Andersen, the prestigious accounting firm had destroyed thousands of documents which were related to Enron finances.

Opinions and Reactions

The operation of Enron defrauded employees and investors out of millions of dollars, which at the same time the “big guys” who were involved in the game were quietly bailing themselves out, putting millions in personal and offshore accounts including the banks, such as, Chase and Citi Bank. Ken Lay had a high level political figure as a good friend, one that could help Enron to maintain its operation’s practices. Consequently, and if one were to believe it or not, politics is the driving factor for all regulatory and policies within any countries operations.

ArthurAndersen, the prestigious accounting firm, was paid a million dollar per week, denied their awareness of such practices of Enron. Auditors that supposedly gave reasonable assurance that the financials were, in fact, true and fair and free of material misstatements. As a result, many persons questioned the integrity and independence of the accounting and auditing profession. Such questions left a bitter taste in my mouth, within a career that has my interest and aspiration. A profession I held a role as an external auditor, internationally, and now as an accountant, I am in an “aww” moment, as to how people’s greed could allow them to continue embezzling cash or equivalents by any means necessary, no matter what harm may have caused by such actions. The disappointment I have with these people that are involved, by allowing their integrity to be compromised because of the greed of money is very heart rendering, wherein the end, mostly the poor suffer from such harsh deals.

Shellian is a master of science in accounting student at the Feliciano School of Business, Montclair State University, Class of 2018.