The smartest guys in the cellblock

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Last week, Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, President and CEO respectively, were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in, arguably, the most heinous corporate scandal in history. Enron represents capitalism at its sleaziest; top corporate executives, lying to the thousands of smaller stockholders about the status of the company, while cashing in their securities at top dollar and running off with millions.

It's another example of the little guy taking it on the chin, while the fat cats line their pockets. When I think of the thousands of people who lost their 401k retirement plans along with their jobs because they trusted those at the top to treat them fairly, the feeling of rage is palpable. Those poor, trusting souls were given false information about the stability of the company and the value of the stock, as the larcenous lions of Enron, with unparalleled hubris, conspired to rip off the people who put their sweat as well as their faith into the energy giant. The hottest place in hell should be reserved for those who are so possessed with greed that they can sleep peacefully after cheating people to the point of leaving them destitute. How did these guys face their families after cashing in about a hundred million dollars worth of stock at $86 a share, while driving the price down to 68 cents for thousands of other families to agonize over?

Enron is not the first company that has falsified the books and kept their stockholders in the dark. They are just the latest poster child for the insidious strain of evil in the system. If one were to question Kenneth Lay about his philosophy of business, it's very likely he'd say something about the driving force needed to get to the top and make the big bucks. He'd probably use terms like, 'swimming with the sharks,' and 'nice guys finish last.' He'd simply be stating the views of someone who had been raised to believe that the accumulation of money is so important that one needn't be concerned with the means to its attainment.

Al Capone and John Gotti felt similarly and we all know where they ended up. Some would say the fault lies squarely at the door of the capitalist system, a system that breeds and nourishes greed. That is too broad a definition and too easily used to scapegoat an entire business model because of the iniquities of a few. The amoral cynics will smile and tell us it's all part of the rough and tumble game in the corporate jungle, where only the treacherous survive. Don't believe it! 

To make such a generalization would much too blithely repudiate the bountiful merits of a system that often gets a bum rap because of the bum rats within. As one juror said about Lay assuring Enron employees that the company's stock was a great buy in 2001, even as he was selling some $70 million worth of it, 'That was a disgrace!' Yet, for every Kenneth Lay there are dozens of Jack Welches, Lee Iacoccas, and Alfred Sloans, corporate leaders who have been labeled, tough, driving, hard—nosed and focused, but never corrupt. These former CEO's managed General Electric, Chrysler, and General Motors respectively and are probably three of the greatest corporate leaders of the last century. Jack Welch, before he retired in 2000, sat atop a business empire with $304 billion in assets, $89 billion in sales, and 276,000 employees scattered in more than 100 countries around the globe. As a result, those employees and stockholders have been able to share in the success and plan a future for themselves and their families.

Ultimately, it's not the system that's at fault; it's those who bastardize the system. Even a friendly game of Poker can turn deadly if one of the players has sticky fingers and a long—sleeved shirt. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: 'We have the worst system in the world, except for all the others.' Lay, Skilling and others of their ilk are merely examples of how a virtue can be grotesquely transmogrified to resemble a pernicious form of vice. In this case the system worked; these crooks will pay dearly for their cold—hearted, mercenary behavior. Given the amount of years they will be spending in prison, one wonders if they still think they are, 'the smartest guys in the room.'

Bob Weir   5 30 06

Last week, Enron's Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, President and CEO respectively, were found guilty of fraud and conspiracy in, arguably, the most heinous corporate scandal in history. Enron represents capitalism at its sleaziest; top corporate executives, lying to the thousands of smaller stockholders about the status of the company, while cashing in their securities at top dollar and running off with millions.

It's another example of the little guy taking it on the chin, while the fat cats line their pockets. When I think of the thousands of people who lost their 401k retirement plans along with their jobs because they trusted those at the top to treat them fairly, the feeling of rage is palpable. Those poor, trusting souls were given false information about the stability of the company and the value of the stock, as the larcenous lions of Enron, with unparalleled hubris, conspired to rip off the people who put their sweat as well as their faith into the energy giant. The hottest place in hell should be reserved for those who are so possessed with greed that they can sleep peacefully after cheating people to the point of leaving them destitute. How did these guys face their families after cashing in about a hundred million dollars worth of stock at $86 a share, while driving the price down to 68 cents for thousands of other families to agonize over?

Enron is not the first company that has falsified the books and kept their stockholders in the dark. They are just the latest poster child for the insidious strain of evil in the system. If one were to question Kenneth Lay about his philosophy of business, it's very likely he'd say something about the driving force needed to get to the top and make the big bucks. He'd probably use terms like, 'swimming with the sharks,' and 'nice guys finish last.' He'd simply be stating the views of someone who had been raised to believe that the accumulation of money is so important that one needn't be concerned with the means to its attainment.

Al Capone and John Gotti felt similarly and we all know where they ended up. Some would say the fault lies squarely at the door of the capitalist system, a system that breeds and nourishes greed. That is too broad a definition and too easily used to scapegoat an entire business model because of the iniquities of a few. The amoral cynics will smile and tell us it's all part of the rough and tumble game in the corporate jungle, where only the treacherous survive. Don't believe it! 

To make such a generalization would much too blithely repudiate the bountiful merits of a system that often gets a bum rap because of the bum rats within. As one juror said about Lay assuring Enron employees that the company's stock was a great buy in 2001, even as he was selling some $70 million worth of it, 'That was a disgrace!' Yet, for every Kenneth Lay there are dozens of Jack Welches, Lee Iacoccas, and Alfred Sloans, corporate leaders who have been labeled, tough, driving, hard—nosed and focused, but never corrupt. These former CEO's managed General Electric, Chrysler, and General Motors respectively and are probably three of the greatest corporate leaders of the last century. Jack Welch, before he retired in 2000, sat atop a business empire with $304 billion in assets, $89 billion in sales, and 276,000 employees scattered in more than 100 countries around the globe. As a result, those employees and stockholders have been able to share in the success and plan a future for themselves and their families.

Ultimately, it's not the system that's at fault; it's those who bastardize the system. Even a friendly game of Poker can turn deadly if one of the players has sticky fingers and a long—sleeved shirt. To paraphrase Winston Churchill: 'We have the worst system in the world, except for all the others.' Lay, Skilling and others of their ilk are merely examples of how a virtue can be grotesquely transmogrified to resemble a pernicious form of vice. In this case the system worked; these crooks will pay dearly for their cold—hearted, mercenary behavior. Given the amount of years they will be spending in prison, one wonders if they still think they are, 'the smartest guys in the room.'

Bob Weir   5 30 06