The Enron Implosion and the Loss of Respect for the Accounting Profession

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The Enron Implosion and the Loss of Respect for the Accounting Profession

On the surface, the motives behind decisions and events leading to Enron’s downfall appear simple enough: individual and collective greed born in an atmosphere of market euphoria and corporate arrogance. Hardly anyone—the company, its employees, analysts or individual investors—wanted to believe the company was too good to be true. So, for a while, hardly anyone did. Many kept on buying the stock, the corporate mantra and the dream. In the meantime, the company made many high-risk deals, some of which were outside the company’s typical asset risk control process. Many went sour in the early months of 2001 as Enron’s stock price and debt rating imploded because of
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Under Skilling’s leadership, Enron Finance Corp. soon dominated the market for natural gas contracts, with more contacts, more access to supplies and more customers than any of its competitors. With its market power, Enron could predict future prices with great accuracy, guaranteeing superior profits.

Skilling began to change the corporate culture of Enron to match the company’s transformed image as a trading business. He set out on a quest to hire the best and brightest traders, recruiting associates from the top MBA schools in the country and competing with the largest and most prestigious investment banks for talent. In exchange for grueling schedules, Enron pampered its associates with a long list of corporate perks, including concierge services and a company gym. Skilling rewarded production with merit-based bonuses that had no cap, permitting traders to “eat what they killed.”

One of Skilling’s earliest hires in 1990 was Andrew Fastow, a 29-year-old Kellogg MBA who had been working on leveraged buyouts and other complicated deals at Continental Illinois Bank in Chicago. Fastow became Skilling’s protege in the same way Skilling had become Lay’s. Fastow moved swiftly through the ranks and was promoted to chief financial officer in 1998. As Skilling oversaw the building of the company’s vast trading operation, Fastow oversaw its financing.

As Enron’s reputation with the outside world grew, the internal culture apparently began to take a darker tone. Skilling

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