Friday, February 27, 2009

Some day a real rain will come and wash all the trash out of the corner office

Few books have made me want to scream as much as the The Smartest Guys in the Room. They story of Enron is so troubling and terrible that I had to put it down at times. The wickedness of the key personnel of the company is one thing, but their cancerous degrading of nation's trust in the capitalist system is even worse.

I knew at some level that Enron was guilty of accounting shenanigans, but I wasn't aware how large and widespread the problems were. The company was basically a Ponzi scheme where deals were made and years of revenues booked without any sense that these revenues would ever be realized. With these debts hanging over their heads, they constantly chased after more revenue, with each source being as ephemeral as the last.

The culture of this place was nightmarish. The place was run by brilliant narcissists who like many others in finance found rationalization for their evil in the works of Ayn Rand*. They created a review process that the employees viewed as a form of torture. They believed that all that mattered was making more money for the great organziation. One of the traders who purposely exacerbated California's energy crisis in order to benefit Enron said, in his defense, that his only concern was to make money for Enron. The complete absense of morality or connection to the nation ran through all of the company.

They may have been great at creative ways of moving numbers around organizations, but their management skills were below that of the average McDonald's store manager. Their mismanagement of nearly all their businesses forced them into deeper and deeper trickery.

Aside from the all people they screwed over directly, their greater crime was the weakening of the trust that undergirds the American economy. One of our strengths over those in other countries is our general trust that people will do what they say they will do. The outright lies and the corrupting of all those organizations and individuals that were supposed to keep track of them is incredibly disturbing.

So, read the book, but you will probably need to break it up with some other reading.

*If you find out that those in power at your company or organization are "Randians," then you must quit immediately. They will screw you one way or another, so you had best go somewhere where sensible people prevail.

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