Let Lay lie

Klay1 The news of Enron Founder Ken Lay’s sudden death at 64 of a massive heart attack is a very sad close to a very sad chapter in American business.

I, for one, felt really bad for Lay as the trial unfolded and his fate was sealed.

There’s no doubt that Ken Lay was guilty and, along with his cohort, Jeff Skilling, perpetrated a monstrous scheme that violated laws, destroyed a corporation and ruined many peoples’ lives. And, yet, Lay always struck me as kind of a sweet, unassuming figurehead (physically, he always reminded me of Bob Newhart). I’m sure he was a tough, no-nonsense businessman, but I guarantee he died a thousand deaths before his heart finally gave out last night.

Think about it. Here’s a guy who built Enron from nothing to a corporation that, at one point, was the absolute darling of Wall Street (and the focus of countless cover stories). Sure, he wheeled and dealed, and sure he turned his back as Skilling, Fastow, et al, became more and more creative with their bookkeeping.

But, when the trial began, I saw a defeated man. I saw someone whose image and reputation had taken a massive beating. I saw a man who had based his very existence on his work, only to see that work not only crumble, but become the watchword for an entire generation of corporate excess and greed.

So, when I hear some people say of Lay’s death…"Good. He got what was coming to him" and others exclaim, "I feel cheated," I have to disagree. The man suffered incredible public disgrace, watched everything he built fall apart and was facing decades in prison and financial ruin.

Although Ken Lay’s heart gave out long before he could begin re-paying his debt to society, I guarantee his psyche has been "doing hard time" for the past few years.

Key lay will forever be linked to the Enron disaster. But, I think we should give the guy (and his family) the benefit of the doubt re: his supposed "cheating" the hangman. Lay died many, many times before his heart stopped beating for the last time last night.

22 thoughts on “Let Lay lie

  1. RepMan,
    You are misquoting me. I never said “I’m glad he died” or “he deserved to die.” What I said was “I feel cheated.”
    I did not want him to die. I wanted him to remain an example of the consequences of corporate greed and continue to pay the price for what he did to countless innocent victims.

  2. rep, the more and more i read about lay this weekend, the more i realized how easy he got off. story after story of people losing millions of dollars in life savings can be found, all while lay lived it up.
    maybe his kids and family didn’t know so maybe they don’t deserve this. but, lay surely did!
    and by the way, did anyone else find it curious how he was quickly creamated? hmm…

  3. Big D: As my original blog and subsequent posting stated, I never doubted Lay’s guilt. Instead, I was commenting on the tabloid press and its “piling on.” I was also lamenting such comments as “good, I’m glad he died” and “he deserved to die.” Comments made by you and your ilk that I felt were unnecessary and over the line.
    The convictions of Lay and Skilling may indeed make other crooked execs think twice. Let’s hope so. But, here’s also hoping that the “unnecessary roughness” of Monday morning quarterbacks like you and the I-man softens a bit in the future as you realize that your comments are not only spiteful, but accomplish absolutely nothing.

  4. RepMan,
    Thank goodness for I-man’s most recent posts. Until then, you put me in the uncomfortable position of completely agreeing with him.
    Ken Lay was a despicable human being who epitomized the meaning of greed and who’s actions were the very essence of what’s wrong with this country.
    He put the maintenance of his own extraordinary lifestyle ahead of the lives of thousands of employees who put their trust in his leadership. Those employees were unaware that their corporate leadership lacked a moral compass.
    Our society has no place in it for this type of behavior and we must come down hard on it whenever it occurs. It’s very important that Lay was publicly humiliated and “died a thousand deaths.” The only chance we have of avoiding actions like this in the future is if other executives see that the penalty, if they are caught, is worse than death. I, for one, would have preferred to see him continue to be an example of what consequences are possible.
    However, we have no proof that his family was aware of what he was up to. I don’t believe they should be held accountable for his actions. I do feel sorry for them.

  5. rep- your logic is what doesn’t make sense. of course his kids should suffer, much in the same way they enjoyed the benefits earlier on. screw his wife, family, kids…he didn’t care that thousands of people lost everything they had, so why should we care that he dropped dead?
    i will say that if ken lay had once offered even a few thousand dollars to each family as an “im sorry” that would have gone a long way. but he kept his money and his family will enjoy it for a long time.
    jimbo, if your philthys ever come back to the right side of .500 let us know. until then, don’t talk about baseball…

  6. I agree with you there, Rep, but I don’t feel sorry for Ken. Not at all. What goes around comes around…
    PS – Tell Billy Wagner to shut his trap. We stopped caring about what he has to say ever since his fastball stopped topping 100 MPH.

  7. I-man, your comments are about as logical as a Willie Randolph pitching decision (that’s inside MetsSpeak for you non-fans). All I was saying is that Lay and his family have suffered enough. There are too many cheap shots being taken by you and others (i.e. the tabloid press). But, let me try to understand your warped logic: are you suggesting that your son should suffer for the rest of his life because of some unethical behavior on your part? Are you suggesting that he shouldn’t be given a fair shake because of your wrongdoings? That’s BS, I-man. I think you and other Monday morning quarterbacks need to move on and leave the Widow Lay and the kids to pick up the pieces of their shattered lives.

  8. pick up the pieces??? what are you smoking? his family enjoyed (and probably will still enjoy) a lavish lifestyle all while thousands of families have been ruined forever. its amazing that you rip a man and a company for his sexual desires outside of his marriage, yet you say that ken lay has suffered enough. i have a new conspiracy theory…ken lay is alive and wrote this blog b/c no sane human would have done so…

  9. I-man, you are one ruthless medical exec. One wonders if you would feel the same way if I-man Sr. had ripped off the medical field, dropped dead of a heart attack and left you ad your fellow I-man siblings to pick up the pieces. Give the guy a break. He obviously suffered a thousand deaths as his image and that of his company were dragged through the mud. The trial killed him…just as surely as a bullet or electric chair would have. As a certain holy man once said, “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone (or something like that).

  10. just got back from a biz trip but have to chime in on this one. rep, i don’t know if all the rain and humidity got to your head, but where did this blog come from??? this guy is far worse than any criminal that comes to mind. a guy like scott peterson kills his wife and gets death. ken lay “killed” thousands of people by causing them to lose their life savings. no doubt that the turmoil caused suicides, affairs, divorces etc. think of how many lives he ruined forever.
    his family? screw them. they knew what he was doing and they lived it up for years b/c of it. jimbo is right..this guy never spent a day in jail for his crime, so he got off damn easy. hopefully he isn’t living in aruba now although i must say the thought did cross my mind when i heard the history. here is hoping that he went staright to hell and his family sees the same sufefing that so many others did b/c of ken lay.

  11. Oh, he is an amazing weather man. His weather segments are like 10 minutes long b/c he explains the weather patterns causing volcanoes, etc. He even has a blog!
    He is such a great, sincere guy (or so it seems) that I was shocked when his news team did a segment on his brother – an Enron executive who was going on trial – how can they be cut from the same cloth? But then again everyone has that one uncle…

  12. Ironic that you titled today’s blog entry as “Let Lay Lie.” I think that is what started this whole mess – he got away with monumental lies for too long.
    In Lay’s case, Gordon Gecco was wrong, “Greed is NOT Good.” Gecco did have one point of view worth chewing on: “It’s not a question of enough, pal. It’s a zero sum game, somebody wins, somebody loses. Money itself isn’t lost or made, it’s simply transferred from one perception to another.”
    But, I think we should all go by what Bud Fox’s father told his son:
    “Stop going for the easy buck and start producing something with your life. Create, instead of living off the buying and selling of others.”
    As Rep would note, hat tip to Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.

  13. Gee, I had no idea Skilling’s brother was a Chicago weatherman. Amazing what one can learn on the blogosphere. So, is Tommy Skilling a competant weather guy?

  14. Now as far as Skilling, have you ever watched his brother give the weather report on Chicago-based WGN? Now that is one man with a passion for the weather and normally right on. He talks a litle too much about cumulus clouds from time to time – Now if only Jeffy was like Tommy, he would have had his head more in the clouds and his hands less in the cookie jar. Ah, the power of the green.

  15. There is a groundswell of reaction wondering if he hasn’t just slipped off to some cool cabana in South America. If he is dead his guilty verdict will be wiped from the record and his assets secured and thus unavailable as compensation to his victims. He surely has the money (and connections) to orchestrate a disappearance. Think I’ll wait for Geraldo to open the casket and confirm he isn’t “just merely dead he’s really most sincerely dead” before I worry too much about his family. Truth is stranger than fiction and as implausible as this scenario may be, it’s a classic end to a blockbuster movie.

  16. You raise a great point, moviechic. Sadly, looks do factor into the way we feel about people. I remember reading a survey some years back that said men who were six-foot-three or taller were 90 percent more lilely to be hired for a CEO position than their shorter competitors. So, yes, Lay’s avuncular looks are undoubtedly coloring my perceptions. I realize I’m letting my emotions get the better of me here, but what a terrible family disaster for Lay’s wife and kids. How’d you like to be in their shoes and deal with that legacy for the rest of your life?

  17. Repman – Do you think you would still feel bad for Lay if in fact he DIDN’T have the sweet, Bob Newhart-esque demeanor? He looks like the quintessential grandpa, yet was a criminal. I think his gentle demeanor probably did wonders for his ability to cook books without anyone having a clue during the Enron days, and now that his face is plastered everywhere with the news of his death, is causing people to again look the other way and feel badly for him as you say, as opposed to dealing with the reality that he was not a respectable member of society.

  18. Perhaps, lunchboy. But, the guy paid the ultimate price for his transgressions. And, having followed the Enron story/trial, I do believe Lay was an unwiting dope who let Skilling and the others do the really wicked things. Doesn’t excuse him, mind you. Just makes me feel bad for the guy.

  19. I agree with Jimmy. If you were to line up all the thousands of people he cheated (of billions, not millions and millions, Jimbo), I bet not one person would feel bad for this cat. Lunch boy included.
    Public humiliation is one thing, cheating people out of their savings and livelihoods is another.
    And, as an entrepreneur, I bet your opinion of Ken would be mighty different if your agency was Enron’s AOR…

  20. Jimbo: I knew this blog would raise a few eyebrows. What can I say? Maybe I’m mellowing with age.
    While Lay was undoubtedly guilty, the public humiliation he had to deal with had to have been brutal. And imagine how he felt about putting his family through such pain and anguish? Was he a bad guy? Yes. Did he, Skilling and Fastow destroy Enron? Yes. But, to err is human, Jimbo. To forgive, divine. So,I don’t have any problem expressing my feelings for the poor bastard. As an entrepreneur, I can only imagine what it must have felt like to watch the business you built and nurtered become a synonym for corporate greed, excess and abuse. R.I.P. Mr. Lay.

  21. Whoa! Repman, I was surprised to read this current blog.
    Some back-fill: I was watching CNBC yesterday when they broke the story on-air. My immiediate thoughts: All that money, the powerful people he was tight with and the fact he is facing decades in prison. If there was ever a case for disappearing, this is the perfect candidate. I’m not one of these conspiracy nuts either. It was just my first impression when I heard this yesterday.
    My second was suicide.
    When I learned that is was a heart attack, I did feel somewhat bad for the fellow, but man, I think if someone in his family gets hold of this blog, you will be asked to read his eulogy. You might be his only fan!
    Rep, the man with his Bob Newhart looks aside, was a crook. I’m sure he started with good intentions back in the 80s, but when books were to be cooked, he was the CEO. When fake investments, numbers and revenues were to be reported, he gave the final okay. Haven’t you told us that we need to trust our CEOs? That they need to act with accountability? That they need to show investors that a tight ship is being run?
    He should have done all of that and more. However, he and Skilling and the rest of the Enron ilk milked thousands of employees and investors out of millions and millions.
    I say he got off easy. So, he carried some burden on his shoulders for his misdeeds. Good! He never stepped foot in a prison and died in his own bed. In my opinion, he got off easy.
    Good people die all the time, I would rather worry or write kind words about children who are sick in hospitals, people who need organ transplants, victims of rape or murder, etc. This is a guy who had it all and wanted even more. Good riddance.