By Frank Ahrens
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 26, 2006
"I am in such an excellent mood," former Enron Corp. employee Ken Horton gushed from Houston yesterday.
Friends started calling Horton about 10:30 a.m. central time after news broke that a verdict had been reached in the trial of former Enron executives Kenneth L. Lay and Jeffrey K. Skilling.
Within a half-hour, the guilty verdicts began rolling in, the culmination of a 16-week trial, a four-year investigation and a nearly five-year saga for the 30,000 former employees of the energy company, many of whom lost jobs they loved and retirement savings they counted on.
Some, like Horton, were happy. Others were saddened.
Horton, who followed the trial closely, worked under Richard Buy, then Enron's chief risk officer. Enron's risk assessment division conducted sophisticated, minute-by-minute mathematical analyses that assessed the risk presented to the company by its various deals.
Horton joined Enron in 1998 and was one of the thousands of employees who boxed up their belongings and marched out of the gleaming Enron tower around the time the company declared bankruptcy in December 2001.
Like many employees, Horton felt betrayed by leaders of a company he loved.
"If I had to do it all over again, I would work at Enron again," he said. "I just would have invested a little differently."
Like many Enron employees, Horton also filled his retirement account with Enron stock. His loss "was in the six figures," he said. "It set my retirement back a few years."
Horton called working at Enron an "intense" experience.
"One of the really strong characteristics of the company was how much it was driven by deals," he said. "The people managing these deals had enormous bonuses riding on the deals and rode everybody hard."
Adam Plager's reaction to yesterday's verdicts was shock.
"I never thought" the jury would reach a guilty verdict, said the former Enron software engineer. "I thought it was too complicated of a case."
As the chief executive of his own small software company, which he founded shortly after exiting Enron in December 2001 ("or after it exited me," he said), Plager said he believes top executives should be held accountable for the failures of their companies. But he was afraid the guilty verdicts would take attention from others culpable for the company's downfall: Wall Street banks that loaned the company money while underwriting its deals and stock analysts who touted the Enron stock without asking the company tough questions about its financials.
Plager lost his 401(k) plan, which was filled with Enron stock, but had prudently diversified the rest of his portfolio based on Enron's spendthrift ways. Smart companies don't spend money "like water," he thought.
"I went to England once, flew first-class and stayed at a hotel across from Buckingham Palace for a project that never should have required me to be there," he said. "With a little more planning, I would not have had to be there."
Rod Jordan was a manager in the much-maligned Enron Energy Services business, which contracted with companies, such as J.C. Penney Co., to manage their energy needs. The division inflated its earnings by booking long-term anticipated profits on current earnings reports.
Jordan bought his first Enron stock in 1991 at $11 per share. He joined Enron in 1998 with a five-year plan to retire from the company with profits from his Enron stock, which soared as high as $90 per share in August 2000. Jordan projected that it would top out at $120 per share by 2003 and he'd be set. Instead, he found himself part of the exodus of Enron employees in December 2001.
The verdicts yesterday stung Jordan a little. He said justice had been done, but he admitted to have been pulling, at least early on, for a Lay acquittal.
"I wanted someone high up that I could still believe in," Jordan said. "That hope sort of faded away after the stuff started coming out" during the trial, he said.
After he lost his job, he started the Severed Enron Employees Coalition, a Web network that kept former employees in touch and served as a resource for those looking for jobs.
Jordan recently surveyed the 1,200-member coalition about life after Enron and got more than 200 responses, he said. About 60 percent of the respondents said they believed Lay was guilty, while all but two respondents felt that way about Skilling.
"There was a lot more animosity toward Skilling in the company," Jordan said.
Skilling, who joined Enron from McKinsey & Co. in 1990, led Enron's conversion from a pipeline company to the industry's leading energy trader. He was the company's chief executive from February 2001 to August 2001, when he abruptly resigned, citing personal reasons. Lay, who founded Enron and preceded Skilling as chief executive, took over after his resignation and helmed the company until its bankruptcy.
Tracy Randall is one of the former Enron employees saddened by the verdicts.
An IT staffer from 1997 to 2003, she followed the company into reorganization. She still harbors warm feelings for Lay.
"I just can't believe they said he was guilty," she wrote via e-mail from Houston. "He might be accountable for some mistakes, but I don't think he should go to prison. He hired the best of the best to run things for him, and they failed him."