Ever since Enron Corp. collapsed more than two years ago, the Justice Dept. has been hot on the trail of former CEO Jeffrey K. Skilling. A chorus of critics have charged prosecutors with foot-dragging. But they're missing the point. The real reason it has taken so long to indict Skilling is that putting him behind bars is going to be a surprisingly tough thing to do.
The visionary manager, who graduated in the top 5% of his class at Harvard Business School and made partner at McKinsey & Co. in a nearly record-breaking five years, did an amazing job keeping his fingerprints off the Enron disaster. He bailed out of the energy giant just in time, two months before the first disclosure of accounting problems and four months before it declared bankruptcy. He initiated an automatic stock-sale program, which will help insulate him from any potential insider-trading charges, 10 months before he resigned. He rarely used e-mail or gave orders in writing. Alone among the current crop of vilified corporate chieftains, he seems to have managed to walk away from the ruins without leaving a trace.