SC Lawyer, July 2006, #4. Enron and you.

AuthorBy John Freeman

South Carolina Lawyer

Ethics Columns.

SC Lawyer, July 2006, #4.

Enron and you

South Carolina LawyerJuly 2006Enron and youBy John FreemanKen Lay and Jeffrey Skilling's recent convictions guarantee that, absent appellate reversals, each will spend most or all of his remaining years behind bars. That two former corporate management titans will soon be eating at government expense is a spectacle many ethics teachers are studying. What lessons does Enron's demise hold for us? The answer is, "many."

First and foremost, what Enron teaches is that hubris is not only ill-becoming, it is a dangerous personal quality. "Hubris" is a great word. According to online authority Wikipedia, it connotes "exaggerated pride or selfconfidence, often resulting in fatal retribution." Hubris, in other words, is arrogance that invites punishment.

Wise people, including accomplished lawyers, do not exude hubris. The most respected professionals tend to be those who have earned great esteem but are blessed with the humility to present themselves to all as genuinely warm, caring and approachable. What goes around tends to come around in the legal profession, and prima donnas tend to get theirs eventually.

Ken Lay, it turns out, was two-faced. The conventional wisdom was that Lay supposedly presented himself to others as a folksy, down-home guy. Court observers thus expected him to charm the jury. Unfortunately for him, Lay had another, less publicized side to his personality. Lay could be self-absorbed. The jury saw through the good-old-boy act, confronting instead a rich, self-centered man "who drank his coffee only from a particular kind of china cup, [who] had a company plane's interior repainted during a layover because he didn't like the color, [and who] in myriad ways he suggested that rules were for lesser beings." Mimi Swartz, The Three Faces of Ken Lay, New York Times, available at

Another Enron teaching relates to the time-honored obligation to follow talk with consistent actions. Enron featured an impressive set of written ethics rules, administered at the top by Lay and Skilling. Page 12 of Enron's Code of Ethics was entitled "Business Ethics." Among the defunct company's lofty ethical precepts found on page 12: "Relations with the Company's many publics-customers...

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