If Enron were collapsing today...

December 1, 2008 4:22:02 PM PST
Seven years ago today, Wall Street and Houston's Main Street were rocked by the corporate collapse and bankruptcy of Enron, a name that's now synonymous with corporate greed and stockholder loss. [CHECK THE MARKETS: Get the latest numbers from Wall Street]
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On this anniversary, we spoke with a former Enron executive who's written a book that sounds like it's out of today's headlines.

It was once the most coveted place to work in Houston, then came December 1, 2001, with bankruptcy and the layoff of nearly all its work force.

With a painful front row seat to the collapse was Enron's vice president of global human resources. In hindsight, she says bankruptcy was probably not the path Enron founder Ken Lay should have taken.

"We were in a liquidity crisis just like investment banks are today and I think Ken could have used his relationships with banks a little bit stronger than he did to try to get us the commercial paper we needed to transact business because that's what happened with Goldman and Lehman and all the banks," said Cindy Olson, author and former Enron executive. "It's a liquidity crisis."

Olson's recently published book is called 'The Whole Truth.' It's described as testimony from inside Enron's executive offices. But Enron's story is getting attention now with the collapse of investment banks and government bailouts.

"To see the Lehman CEO talk about how great their company is and then three weeks later, their company goes down and Bear Sterns was three days before they filed for bankruptcy or they were bailed out and that's what Ken Lay was convicted of," said Olson.

That was then and this is now; a climate of government bailouts and bank rescues, all because of bad investments. The irony is that if Enron had happened today, it might have been in line for a bailout. Instead, Olson says without a lesson learned from its collapse, its doomed history is already repeating itself.

"We kind of predicted the future," said Olson. "If someone were to really look at what happened to us, some of the brightest people in the world, some of the best risk managers in the world and we still failed."

One thing Olson says Enron did right in the bankruptcy is the company started selling off its assets quickly. She believes companies asking for bailouts should behave like they're in financial straits, rather than giving executives their bonuses, and keeping corporate jets.

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