January 14, 2002
At Enron, Gloom and Anger
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Not surprisingly, these are not happy times at Enron, the Houston-based energy trader that filed for bankruptcy in December, after disclosures about accounting irregularities led to a total collapse of its stock.
Employees, blocked from selling their sizeable investments in Enron stock, saw their retirement savings disappear.
Now, with the federal government investigating possible criminal wrongdoing by the company's top executives, employees are quietly pointing investigators toward the man they think most responsible for the fiasco: former Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Skilling.
The San Francisco Chronicle quotes Enron workers as saying they won't hesitate to implicate Skilling if investigators ask probing questions about the company's business dealings - which they will.
"People are p----- as hell at the guy," one well-placed Enron employee told the newspaper. "We think he saw what was coming and bailed out on us."
The Chronicle notes that Skilling resigned as CEO in August, well before accounting irregularities came to light that would cause Enron's stock to plunge more than 99 percent and force the firm to seek bankruptcy protection last month.
Skilling said his departure after a decade as one of Enron's superstars was for personal reasons.
On Sept. 17, the first trading day after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, he made nearly $15 million by selling off about 500,000 Enron shares. This was when Enron was still trading at more than $30 per share.
Enron's stock closed Thursday at just 67 cents, leaving the 401(k) plans of thousands of workers in tatters.
"This was a tragedy," Skilling told an interviewer last month after Enron suffered one of the worst corporate implosions in U.S. history. "I had no idea the company was in anything but excellent shape."
He suggested that the company's former chief financial officer, Andrew Fastow, was to blame for any irregularities.
But Enron employees, many of whom remain fiercely loyal to the company, told the Chronicle that Skilling's declarations of innocence ring hollow.
"Skilling knew more about the deals than he's let on," one worker said, adding that many at Enron share a feeling of betrayal that their former leader is now trying to distance himself from the company.
"We were drinking the Kool-Aid and he was selling stock," the worker said. "I have no reason to think that he didn't see things coming."
Another worker described morale as about as robust as Enron's market value. "This is not a happy place," he said. Worse, employees know that Enron's death spiral has yet to hit bottom.
"I don't think we're there yet," the worker said. "With the political theater we're going to see for the next eight weeks, we'll probably define new lows every day."