Enron survivors remember collapse 20 years later: 'We'll focus on the good memories'

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Even after 20 years, Dung Tran gets a little nostalgic when he pulls out the Enron company wares from a duffle bag.

The T-shirts are pretty wrinkled and the baseball hat's a bit faded, but there is no mistaking the Enron logo.

"I actually started at Enron when I was 21," said Tran. "I (had) just finished at Rice and started at their vocational program."

As a fresh-faced 21-year-old, Tran, like many of his coworkers, was young, driven and eager to climb the corporate ladder. Enron seemed to value all of it, and for most of his seven years there, the work-hard-play-hard mentality thrived.

"It's a very complex, big company with a lot of things going on," said Tran, the now owner of an electricity provider. "I think most of us were trying to keep our head above water, in our own business unit, doing what we're asked to do in our job."

Tran said looking back, he estimates about 95% of employees had no idea about the accounting malfeasance that was going on.

Sherron Watkins, who was the vice president at Enron at the time, started noticing something unusual. She became the whistleblower who exposed Enron's accounting practices in the months leading up to the company's bankruptcy.

SEE MORE: Remembering the collapse of Enron

Then, on Dec. 2, 2001, it was all over. Enron declared bankruptcy, making headlines around the country.

"It was really quite a shock to have almost 5,000 people let go, and be told 'Hey, Friday was your last paycheck.' It was three weeks before Christmas," recalled Watkins.

Tran, by coincidence, took a job in Dallas a few months before Enron collapsed. He remembers the shock among his friends and coworkers.

"In the spring of 2002, even if you had a great resume, there were a lot of great resumes," Tran recalled, as a glut of young people hired during Enron's peak flooded the job market. "A lot of people were looking for jobs."

"Enron represents such a perfect storm of corporate scandal. It wasn't just six people cooking the books in the CFO office," said Watkins. "It was a number of both perpetrators of the fraud and reluctant participants in the fraud."

Watkins was named a Time's magazine person of the year for blowing the whistle on Enron's scheme. The company's founder, Ken Lay, was found guilty during his federal trial, but died before serving any time in prison. Former CEO Jeff Skilling spent a dozen years in prison and now runs a secretive private equity fund.

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Meanwhile, former CFO Andy Fastow, who spent about six years in prison, is now on the speaking circuit, where his fees are anywhere between $10,000 and $20,000 per event.

"Andy Fastow is a more popular figure than me," said Watkins, who is also on the speaking circuit. "He's still the same charismatic person. He's able to spin a tale, and they always feel sorry for him at the end of this talk."

Fastow declined to speak to ABC13, though his videos are available on YouTube.

As for Tran, he put together a 20th anniversary gathering for other fellow Enron survivors. They met and drank together, as he said, not to mourn the bad things that happened, but to celebrate that even after 20 years, friendship endures.

"It will be a lot love, good feelings, good vibes. People will focus on the positive memories."

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