Enron Ascending: The Forgotten Years 1984-1996.

Date01 March 2020
AuthorRoach, Travis

Enron Ascending: The Forgotten Years 1984-1996, Robert Bradley, Jr. (Wiley-Scrivener, 2018) 816 pages, ISBN 978-1118549575.

Enron Ascending is the third volume of a planned four in Bradley's Political Capitalism Tetralogy. Previous books in the series are Capitalism at Work: Business, Government, and Energy and Edison to Enron: Energy Markets and Political Strategies. The planned Contra-Capitalism: Enron and the Post-Enron World rounds out the quartet.

Enron Ascending is a thorough and compelling accounting of the inner workings of one of America's most infamous corporations--Enron--during its rise to prominence as it transformed from Houston Natural Gas into Enron. Bradley enjoys an insider's view, having spent 16 years at Enron, eventually as the corporate director for public policy analysis. In addition to recounting the corporate trajectory, the book captures the diametrically opposed political views and practices of CEO Ken Lay, for whom Bradley wrote speeches. While Lay espoused free market views in private, he was quick to embrace business practices that limited free market pressures on Enron. Both parts of Lay indelibly shaped Enron. Bradley's caricature of Lay is colorful: "Overconfident with a dose of hubris spawned different combinations of imprudence and philosophic fraud." A Harvard Business School case study that Bradley highlights draws a similar conclusion, "an intense competitor who set goals with 'a lot of stretch in them.'" Or perhaps the most honest opinion of Lay and his managerial style comes from Bradley's recollection of Lay's own comment: "[Y]ou cannot cut your costs to prosperity." The end result of this notion was that Enron "chased dollars rather than pinched pennies."

The book is a massive effort that tips the scale at 816 pages, consistent with Bradley's earlier magisterial effort on the oil and gas industry, Oil, Gas, and Government (1996). The thoroughness of the treatment of the topic can be succinctly captured in the 12-page chronology of Ken Lay, which starts with the birth of his great-great-great-great-great grandfather.

The book has six parts, with the first covering the transition from Houston Natural Gas to Enron during 1984-1987. The second part addresses the crisis at Enron in 1987 and the ensuing recovery, including corporate restructuring. The third part addresses the rise of natural gas as a commodity in the period 1990-1993. The fourth part is devoted to the role of former CFO Jeffrey Skilling...

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