Sunday 21 March 2010

Enron: Bad Business at its Worst

For anyone who cares deeply about both business and ethics, the modern world can be a confusing place. When is secrecy dishonesty? At what point does hospitality border on bribery? How low can pay be without being exploitative? These kinds of issues play out every day in boardrooms, lecture theatres and people’s minds. Although they underlie most of what is reported in the business news, they are rarely tackled head on in the mainstream media.

Last weekend I went to see the theatrical production of Enron. The play was great. The case of corporate fraud on which it is based is truly shocking.

“When Jeffrey Skilling was hired [as Enron’s CEO], he developed a staff of executives that, through the use of accounting loopholes, special purpose entities, and poor financial reporting, were able to hide billions in debt from failed deals and projects. Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and other executives were able to mislead Enron's board of directors and audit committee of high-risk accounting issues as well as pressure Andersen [their auditor] to ignore the issues.”
-from the Wikipedia article on the Enron Scandal

The bottom line? Twenty thousand jobs were lost and many employees lost their life savings, which they had invested in company stock (they also lost their pensions plans and health insurance). Enron is a case study in bad business on a breath-taking scale...

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