Editorial Comment
May 9, 2002


Enron - the movie

I am not a big fan of Hollywood, but I do have a favorite actor. He is Danny DeVito, who typically plays the part of consummately cynical and unprincipled rascals. I enjoy his characters because they are so similar to the many shallow and conniving people I have known in my lifetime.At any rate, life supposedly imitates art, and that is what comes to mind when I think of the Enron bankruptcy. If you let your mind run expansively, you can see the people who led Enron fulfilling roles typical of those Mr. DeVito plays in movies.

Some studios are actually talking about turning the Enron story into a movie. If someone does, I hope it is not a hokey docudrama in the vein of Titanic. Considering that the outrageous double-dealing, treachery, and nefarious conduct surrounding Enron is so over-the-top, the movie should be a comedy, and the starring role, of course, has to be Mr. DeVito as the CEO.

More than being a film about comically flawed people, it also should be a parody ridiculing America's mindless infatuation with business-school morality and tooth-fairy economics.

What is business-school morality? It is the ethic that says the purpose of every living creature on Earth is to increase shareholder value. It says that any conduct is acceptable if it passes an audit and pleases Wall Street analysts. What is tooth- fairy economics? It is a body of knowledge that ignores the implications of expecting endless growth. If a company isn't growing at a rate of 20% compounded annually, management is deemed to be incompetent.

But back to our movie. These bright people were put to work trading something called weather derivatives and broadband. The company even had a man with a doctoral degree in operations management doing what one newspaper called "complex data analysis in the burgeoning field of weather trading." All this is so patently absurd that screenwriters may have difficulty weaving it into a plotline with a semblance of plausibility, but I am sure they can do it.

High-drama, pathos, recrimination, and maybe even violence can be added to the script based on what has been called Enron's "rank and yank" employee-evaluation system. Performance evaluations at Enron sometimes included anonymous evaluations by a person's coworkers. What a marvelous thing this was for people who had grudges to settle. Grading was on a curve, so employees could easily find themselves in the "needs-improvement" category. Anyone not ranking well was subject to being yanked. Employees who were yanked sometimes had just 30 minutes to get their things together and get out. Is this a great country, or what?

The most hilarious scenes in the movie will revolve around the fake trading room that managers set up to impress visiting securities analysts. A newspaper account says Enron managers rushed 75 sales reps and secretaries to an empty trading floor and told them to act as though they were doing business when the analysts came through. They were even told to bring personal items such as pictures to make the area look authentic. Wow! I think we're headed for an Academy Award.

- Ronald Khol, Editor