Let the Enron Games Begin!
By Robert Barker
Some people say business is just a game. Others think games are just so much business. I can't tell you where business ends and games begin, but this much is certain: The 2002 Olympic Winter Games should move, right away, from Salt Lake City to Houston.
You say I'm nuts? I say it'll simply be a better show down in Texas. These Enron Winter Games would have no need for multiple venues. The Host Committee could simply set up a few lawn chairs and a beer keg out back of second base at Enron Field (the Astros haven't yet removed Enron's name from the stadium façade). Given the worries of investors and regulators about such companies as Global Crossing (GX ), PNC Financial (PNC ), Qwest Communications International (Q ), and Tyco International (TYC ) the competition would surely be fierce.
After watching some of this week's congressional testimony and looking through the Enron (ENRNQ ) board of directors' recent report on how the company disgraced itself, I'm confident in my picks for winners in the following events:
Speed Skating: Former Enron CEO Jeffrey Skilling wins by a lap, having gotten off of the company's thin ice last August, when he suddenly quit his job after only a few months as CEO citing "personal reasons." Just before he decamped, Enron shares traded on the New York Stock Exchange near $45. Today, they're bid in the Pink Sheets at 31 cents. I can hear the fans already: "Go, Jeff, Go!"
Figure Skating: In this crowd favorite, lovely Michelle Kwan has nothing on accounting firm Arthur Andersen, Enron's auditor. The blithe elegance with which Andersen glided over Enron's books, not once catching an edge on those off-balance-sheet liabilities -- more treacherous even than a Triple Lutz -- has all the ingredients of a sublime performance. And with Andersen partners making like so many "See-No-Evil, Hear-No-Evil" monkeys, their combined artistry is, well, unbelievable.
Biathlon: No one in Salt Lake could rival ex-Enron Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow in dual-purpose sports. Biathletes in Utah must perform not only as top-notch cross country skiers but also as crackerjack rifle shots. In Houston, Fastow already showed his world-class mastery of the two-fer. Two-fer himself, that is, making out not just as an officer of Enron, with all the executive pay, stock options, and such but also as the guy who created and ran non-Enron investment partnerships. He took away at least $30 million for slaving over those off-balance-sheet partnerships -- "at Enron's expense," according to the report by Enron's board. An-dy! An-dy!
Snowboarding: This event features such rapid aerial contortions as McTwists and Alley-oops in a snowy pit called the "halfpipe." I'd put Securities & Exchange Commission Chairman Harvey Pitt up against any world-class snowboarder for his supple twists in defending a half-baked plan to reform oversight of the accounting industry. After spending years in private practice advocating on the industry's behalf against reform, he's now the man in charge of reform and -- this is most excellent -- sees no reason why he shouldn't be.
Ice Hockey: With former Commodities Futures Trading Commission Chairwoman Wendy Gramm on Enron's board, and her deregulation-groovin' husband, Senator Phil Gramm (R-Tex.), in Washington, Enron gave new meaning to the hockey maneuver known as the "power play." Hard to imagine anyone in Utah handling the puck as adeptly as Wendy and Phil.
Skeleton: In Salt Lake City, fans on hand for this oddly named sledding event will witness some of the world's most courageous athletes facing the threat of death as they race downhill at speeds of up to 90 miles per hour with little protective gear. Yet at Enron Field, we can see the real thing.
I mean, a real skeleton -- Kenneth Lay, Enron's former chairman. Given all that happened at the company on his watch, the most charitable conclusion we can draw about Lay is that he paid as much attention to Enron as would a big, old bag of bones. And in true five-ring form, he recently sent his wife, Linda, before the TV cameras to plead his case. Next, he canceled his appointment to testify on Capitol Hill. You'd almost think he had skeletons in the closet.
Now, answer me this: Do you really imagine anyone in Utah will show the proud Olympic spirit of this bunch? No way!
Barker covers personal finance in his Barker Portfolio column for BusinessWeek. His barker.online column appears every Friday, only on BusinessWeek Online
Edited by Patricia O'Connell