As a Business student, I hear a lot of references to Enron- the main corporation involved in one of the biggest business scandals in American history. Even though I had gotten a gist of what generally happened to the downfall of this company and the stock market, I never really got the chance to learn about the details or the people associated with it. Surprisingly enough, it was through my first-year criminology course (elective choice) that I was able to understand exactly how all these events unfolded. In learning about corporate crime, my professor showed us a documentary directed by Alex Gibney titled “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room” (2005).
I know what you guys are thinking… a documentary? Boring! But it’s really not that bad. In fact, it was pretty interesting. The great thing about it is that I feel that you don’t necessarily have to be interested in the business world to pay attention in this film (this was showed in a criminology class!). Because like one of the commentators in the film said, “This is about people.”
Yes, accounting procedures played a giant role in the unfortunate events. Yes, laws and regulations were also talked about. But the film doesn’t continuously barf out complicated business processes or terms, assuming you’re an insider knowing everything about how this industry and company works. It explains the situation in easy-to-understand ways and more importantly, it focuses a lot on what really matters: the people. The CEOs, the employees, the partners, the government, and how each dimension interacts with each other. The accounting procedures played a role because of the choices and actions of the people. And same goes to the laws, regulations, and ethical issues.
My reaction watching this film was a disturbing one. I was disturbed. And I was disturbed because of the injustice that seemed to befall on these victims. But more than that, I was disturbed because it really showed a darker side to human nature. The driving forces of the Enron scandal reinforced values of greed, selfishness, dishonesty, and abuse of power. It takes more than just a handful of people to manifest a corruptive corporate culture. And it’s not just the top-management at fault. The film ended with memorable comment by an ex-employee saying that Enron’s slogan was “Ask Why”. And he never asked why… not to his superiors, his colleagues, or himself.
And I kind of understand what he means. It’s like one of those things that you know in your head, but you don’t want to say it out loud… the elephant in the room. Everybody will just shut their eyes and pretend they are not running away from reality.
It really is a documentary that shows you a mirror reflection of what could (and did) go terribly wrong. Enron was a star company of its time; it showed so much promise and so much future for its workers, the economy, and the state. And I believe that it is very sad how everything cracked and broke. Although the higher-ups are mostly labeled as the ‘evil-doers’ (and it’s hard to defend them), I do want to believe that they started out with good intentions. But the bad decisions they took continued to pile up and before long, they became engulfed in them and it was too late for them to pull themselves out of the hole they made. It’s a scary thought… looking into a mirror and seeing yourself so guilty, distraught, desperate, and wrong.