Posted: May 7th, 2015
The Enron Story
Assignment 2 involves a case study analysis in the answering of three questions. Case studies are designed to utilise theory in the analysis of a particular example, in this case Enron. The case study, as presented, is quite short. In order for you to get a better grasp of the case there is extra reading supplied.
The flowing criteria will be used in the assessment of the Assignment.
You will need to demonstrate that you have understood what the case is about and that you have grasped the key issues.
Analysis and problem diagnosis :
You will need to demonstrate that you can apply theories of leadership to help you analyse the particular problems that faced Enron. Question 1 provides you with the opportunity for analysis and problem diagnosis.
Theory and practice :
You will need to demonstrate that the case study can help understand the theory that looks at the relationship between leadership and culture specifically. This will be the main focus of Question 2.
What can we learn from the Enron case and what recommendation can you make for the role of leadership in curbing unethical behavior. Question 3 focuses on this.
How well is it written, how is it structured and how convincing are the arguments
The Enron Story1
US company Enron was formed in 1986 from the merger of natural gas pipeline companies Houston Natural Gas and Internorth, and in the following 15 years diversified to provide products and services related to natural gas, electricity and communications. Early in 2001the company employed around 22,000 staff. Ken Lay was Chairman of the Board and Jeff Skilling was CEO.
Enron failed when the market lost confidence init following major profit and asset write-downs in the third quarter of 2001. This caused loans to become due as stock market collateral collapsed making new borrowings impossible. Enron sufferedthe usual fate of a failed business; it simply ran outof cash. However, the lost confidence was not the
cause of the collapse but merely its latest symptom.Enron failed because in the words of one commentator it was the proverbial `Emperor’s NewClothes’. The assets and expected earnings which underpinned its meteoric rise into the Fortune top ten were largely illusory, while the tangled web of related companies and financial deals hid a huge burden of debt. Its aggressive accounting practice and market power ensured that the secret was safe, at least in the short term.
In 1997 the company reported operating results of $515m and profits of $105m as a result of non-recurring charges of $410m that `allow us to clearthe decks for future growth’ [Enron press release20 January 1998]. From this point to summer 2001the published financial results were spectacular,with the company meeting or exceeding risingearnings targets in 20 successive quarters. Operating results were $698m in 1998, $957m in 1999and $1.266bn in 2000, the last full year reported.
With the help of their accountants and lawyers, top executives created subsidiaries that looked like partnerships and made it possible to sell assets and create false earnings. Offshore entities were used to avoid taxes, inflate assets and profits and hide losses. Conflict of interest rules were relaxed to allow executives to benefit personally from questionable ventures that in most cases were a drain on company funds.
One example of unethical practices was the transfer of energy out of California to create blackouts thus raising the price of electricity. Then the energy was transferred back to California and sold at higher prices, generating billions of dollars in extra profits.
Jeff Skilling, Enron’s Chief Executive is quoted as saying that his priority as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) was `to keep the stockprice up’. In an interview on 28 March 2001 with FRONTLINE about the California power crisis JeffSkilling said, `We are the good guys. We are onthe side of the angels’. His interviewer asked him, `A general comment that I’ve heard about Enron,and to a certain extent about you [is] that you’revery, very smart, very, aggressive. You’ll lay out your argument, “The rules in California areterrible”, but then once you see what the rulesare, you guys push those rules to the edge in aneffort to make a buck’. Skilling replied, `That’sprobably fair, yes. Once you set the rules to amarketplace, we adhere to the rules. If that’s whatyou’re saying, that’s what we do.’ Interviewer,`But you know what I mean you play the gamehard. You take it right down to the . . .’. Skilling,`We adhere to the rules. If they set up the rules, weadhere to them. It’s like the tax code. No one expects you to pay more taxes than you owe. Andso you’re expected to interpret the rules andconduct your business in that fashion . . .’.
Jeff Skilling resigned in August 2001 for ‘personal reasons’ and was allowed to sell significant amounts of his own stock at a premium price. When Ken Lay took over as CEO he repeatedly emphasised the need to reinforce the message about the value of the company’s shares. He made appearances to investors and the public telling them that Enron was heading in the right direction, at the same time as top executives were rapidly selling their own shares. By August 15 the stock price was down to $15 but many trusted Ken Lay and continued to hold their stock and buy more of it. Four months later Enron filed for bankruptcy
The Board of Directors
The Board of Directors is responsible to theshareholders for the company’s business. They
Should be the guardians of the ethical code andsufficiently in touch with the business to be effective. Enron’s board appear to have fallen short inmany respects. They were not fully briefed on theextent of the partnerships, allegedly taking only fifteen minutes to review some of the more dubioustransactions underlying the surge in earnings.
Subsequently of the 17 Directors, 7 were sued for insider trading and 6 had a trading or sponsorship relationship with Enron thus raising questions of conflicts of interest.
Executives and senior management
It is generally considered that the key determinant of the ethical culture of an organisation is the example set by senior management. Enron is noexception. In principle Enron claimed to subscribeto a morally worthy set of values insofar as Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence are at the core of its Mission Statement. Respect is definedas `We treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. We do not tolerate abusive or disrespectful treatment. Ruthlessness, callousness and arrogance don’t belong here.’
The company culture of individualism, innovation and unrestrained pursuit of profits eroded the ethical behaviour of many Enron employees. The risk-taking culture of Enron and bonus incentivesencouraged staff to manipulate profits estimates.Unethical practices were encouraged and were rife throughout much of the organisation. An employee’s appraisal scheme, the Performance ReviewCommittee (known locally as `rank and yank’)resulted in promotions and bonuses for the topemployees and dismissal for the bottom ones. Each year 15-20% of the employees with the lowest performance were fired and replaced by new employees. Onecommentator says, `the main factor that discouraged questioning of Enron’s business practiceswas a ruthless and reckless culture that lavishedrewards on those who played the game, whilepersecuting those who raised objections’.
The Performance Review Committee controlled employees and forced them into line. Appraisal wassupposed to be based upon how well employees haddelivered the core values; in reality appraisal wasbased upon how much paper profit the employeehad generated. By all accounts Enron was anexciting place to work and it undermines thosewho argue that the macho `greed is good’ culturedid not survive the late 1980s and early 1990s.
It was the biggest and most complex bankruptcy case in US history and had a devastating effect on thousands of employees and investors. It also led to the dissolution of accountancy firm Arthur Andersen, one of the largest in the world, after employees were found to have destroyed documents relating to the auditing of Enron finances. Anderson was serving as the independent auditor whilst at the same time charging Enron millions of dollars in consultancy fees.
1. Adapted from Tonge, A, Greer, L & Lawton, A (2003) ‘The Enron story: you can fool some of the people some of the time….’, Business Ethics: A European Review, vol. 12, no. 1, pp4-22
Yukl, G (2013) Leadership in Organizations 8th .ed. Pearson, Harlow, Essex.,
1. How can what happened at Enron be explained by some of the theories of leadership that you have looked at?
2. In what ways does leadership influence culture?
3. What can be done to reduce the type of unethical behaviour demonstrated in this case? What are your recommendations?
Place an order in 3 easy steps. Takes less than 5 mins.