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Bon Journal

Evil empire strikes back

Enron was indeed a tough place, but the thing I really liked about the company was that it was a microcosm of the economy as a whole. Everyone else around you was -- if not an outright competitor -- someone you nonetheless needed to reckon with.

It was like IBM and Microsoft and Intel. All those companies are competing with one another but they also needed to collaborate with each other in order to be the best they can be. That was a very brutal outlook but I found it refreshingly honest.

Like it or not, modern capitalism is based on corporations acting as individual competitive agents that -- albeit with the necessary assistance of laws and a culture of fair play -- manage to form a functioning cooperating whole. Enron took the next, logical step of viewing each "employee" as being a single corporation functioning in a mini-economy.

THAT is the untold story of why companies such as Enron are important. (I don't think anyone at Enron came up with this individual-as-corporation philosophy --- it's just the natural outcome of trying to build a company of the "best and the brightest"; I suspect that many other companies have come to a similar outlook.)

It's true that some employees responded by losing their souls and backstabbing their way to the top, and hubris is indeed the major reason Enron fell. But many companies whose employees are buddy-buddy have been just as backstabbing in dealing with their competitors -- and they will likely meet the same fate. Neither cut-throat individuals, nor cut-throat teams comprised of devoted fellow employees is the correct one.

The enlightened individual (I don't think there is such a thing as an enlightened corporation so I won't even go there) sees with a clear eye the dog-eat-dog competitive jungle that this world is and in spite of that manages to remain human.

I got kicked around Enron plenty, and have never felt any love for a company (how exactly does one love a company anyway?) but the wonder of my tenure there was that I managed to find people who were able to rise above the competitive muck and (despite stumbling once or often) remain human beings -- people who wanted to be the best at what they did, and wanted the challenge of working with people who felt the same way and "still" were able to handle that pressure with grace. Those were the true visionaries of Enron, not Lay, not Skilling, not Fastow, and it would be a shame if their story was forgotten.

18 December 2001 Tuesday

First of many reactions to the 14-part story
This one is by someone who is still working in the Houston office. He is a brilliant, fabulously talented rock star/finance wizard. Can you guess who?