Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room | Notes & Quotes

Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room, 2005 [R]


And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul? – Matthew 16:26 (NLT)

In light of the recent news emerging out of the Volkswagen emissions scandal, it seems as if corporate malfeasance, greed, loopholes, and hubris are still alive and well. Enron, therefore, is not just the poster child for what went wrong back then, but is yet another exemplar of the human depravity that lurks within us all, and how that sin (yes, let’s call it “sin”) plays out in business.

Perhaps the quote that is most haunting is by Bethany McLean,

Looking at Enron is like looking at the flip side of so much possibility, because like most thing that end terribly, it didn’t start out that way. It started with a lot of people who thought they were changing the world. And over time they became victims of their own hubris, victims of their own greed. And so it’s like taking so much promise and possibility and looking at it in the mirror and seeing the flip side reflected back at you.

A few factors and quotes that stand out:

  • The SEC’s compliance in “Mark to Market” accounting.
  • Jeff Skilling’s statement, “I’m F*cking smart.”
  • The role of Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene, and having a very Darwinian view of the world.
  • How they created a “new economic religion.”
  • That there was “synergistic corruption.” It wasn’t just Enron, but other banks that did not keep the players accountable. “There is a fusion of responsibility,” and it can happen again.
  • The reference to the Milgram Experiment as a potential lens through which to view what happened at Enron.

What is then required of us, who endeavor to change the world, to have great dreams and visions, to envision the future full of possibilities?

A lot of who Cliff was was tied up in how he had succeeded at Enron. It is hard to look at your life’s work and say, “It’s failed.” But you have to take a long cold look at yourself and say, “Who was I? Who did I become?” And realize, you may have seen your shadow. – Amanda Martin-Brock

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