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Business As Usual Fails for Lay and Skilling
It came down to character. Clearly Enron executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling were smart enough to lead Enron to rank 7th on the Fortune 500 list of US companies in 2001. However, some of the qualities that enabled them to succeed – keen intelligence, confidence, salesmanship, charisma, vision – may have ultimately led to Enron’s historic fall and now a guilty verdict. Yesterday, a jury upheld the charges of fraud and conspiracy against the two executives.

Leading a company that has a market value of $60 billion and nearly 6,000 employees must tempt a leader to imagine that he is invincible, beyond reproach and due some spoils for such genius and hard work. In the case of Enron, this attitude was brought on by the power, money, and prestige of such success and proved to be the poison that took $60 billion to zero, left the employees without a job or pension and now finds Lay and Skilling headed for an extended stay at the big house. Enron, Lay and Skilling have come to represent corporate greed, wrong-doing and deceit.

The aggressiveness, commanding presence and intellect that carried them to the executive suite contributed to their conviction. Viewed under a different light, many leadership and character traits did not impress a jury of middle-class citizens. Such smart capable men, suffered from a lack of credibility. The Washington Post reports,

“Jurors in the Enron trial made it clear that it would have been better for former executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling if they'd kept their mouths shut and stayed off the witness stand. Speaking shortly after a federal judge read their verdict, jurors said Lay's indignant outbursts while testifying in his own behalf made him seem "that he very much wanted to be in control -- he commanded the courtroom," said Wendy Vaughan, a Houston business owner."He was very focused, but he had a bit of a chip on his shoulder that made me question his character," she said.

As for Skilling, who spent days explaining the tedious financial inner workings of the once high-flying energy company, the jurors couldn't understand how he could know so much about that and not be aware of illegal business maneuvering, whether or not he was responsible for it personally.”

Character and integrity. They matter. Despite genius, hard work and an ability to attract followers, a leader cannot ultimately succeed with out them. The following found its way into the trial often. It sums up the case and the man.

“Rules are important, but you shouldn’t be a slave to rules either.”

                                                          - Kenneth Lay

The Moderate Voice provides some excellent commentary. Read more at the New York Times.

4 Comments/Trackbacks

Every thing you do comes back to you.


You are right. We are defined and often judged by our actions. Your post on ethical behavior in light of this verdict is well-taken.

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