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Conspiracy of Fools: A True Story Paperback – December 27, 2005
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From an award-winning New York Times reporter comes the full, mind-boggling story of the lies, crimes, and ineptitude behind the spectacular scandal that imperiled a presidency, destroyed a marketplace, and changed Washington and Wall Street forever . . .
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Eichenwald"s story should be required reading in any business course covering management, accounting and finance.
Conspiracy of Fools, The Informant, and 500 Days are all equally enthralling.
As tragic as the ENRON situation is, what transpired behind the scenes was so incredulous, I found myself laughing out loud. The fact that they thought they could get away with some of these schemes was astounding. The fact that they got away with them as long as they did is a tribute to the stupidity of the supporting staff around them. This book should be required reading for any college grad going into the business world.
Apparently having managed to interview most of the major players, Eichenwald puts the reader inside Enron for the highlights and, mostly, lowlights of ten years. While he doesn't resort to name-calling or exaggeration, Eichenwald makes clear he sees few "heroes" in the Enron story. That includes Sherron Watkins who is revealed to be as foul-mouthed and obsessed with her own career as the rest of the Enronites even though she had the guts to put her concerns about the growing financial lunacy directly in front of Ken Lay.
Some reviewers have alleged that Ken Lay gets off easy in Conspiracy. I disagree. Lay is regularly shown to be utterly disengaged from the daily running of the company; given that he was the CEO and Chairman this is inexcusable. He may not have actively committed a crime (until the bitter end) but he allowed the culture to flourish where the truth was entirely malleable. Lay's solution to every crisis is to "call a board meeting." The line becomes a sick joke by the end of the book. Jeff Skilling similarly is thought to have been given a pass but he comes off worse than Lay. No mean feat, that.
Skilling is nearly a parody of the McKinsey consultant who is so busy being "strategic" he can't be bother with the mundane basics such as having enough cash on hand to pay the hired help. Eichenwald never comes out and says it but the facts he presents strongly imply that Skilling suffers from some sort of bipolar disorder. And that's in addition to being an egomaniac.
The villian of the story, however, is undoubtedly Andy Fastow. A man so slimey velcro wouldn't stick to him, Fastow is hilariously venal and self-promoting. One scene of his antics is enough to convince any reader that Skilling and Lay couldn't be bothered with running Enron. Anyone with an IQ above room temperature could have seen through Fastow's lies had they bothered to listen. But Skilling and Lay were too busy being "Business Leaders" to mind the store. In my book, that's loathesome. Is it criminal? Is should be.
Eichenwald does absolve Enron of "causing" the California energy crisis of 2000. No doubt Enron didn't help and was happy to profit from it but Grey Davis and the realities of supply and demand are the real culprits.
Conspiracy of Fools is the fastest 700+ pages you'll ever read.