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The Smartest Guys in the Room
Cover of The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Smartest Guys in the Room
The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron
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There were dozens of books about Watergate, but only All the President's Men gave readers the full story, with all the drama and nuance and exclusive reporting. And thirty years later, if you're going to read only one book on Watergate, that's still the one. Today, Enron is the biggest business story of our time, and Fortune senior writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are the new Woodward and Bernstein.

Remarkably, it was just two years ago that Enron was thought to epitomize a great New Economy company, with its skyrocketing profits and share price. But that was before Fortune published an article by McLean that asked a seemingly innocent question: How exactly does Enron make money? From that point on, Enron's house of cards began to crumble. Now, McLean and Elkind have investigated much deeper, to offer the definitive book about the Enron scandal and the fascinating people behind it.

Meticulously researched and character driven, Smartest Guys in the Room takes the reader deep into Enron's past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron's rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its disastrous demise. It reveals as never before major characters such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, as well as lesser known players like Cliff Baxter and Rebecca Mark. Smartest Guys in the Room is a story of greed, arrogance, and deceit—a microcosm of all that is wrong with American business today. Above all, it's a fascinating human drama that will prove to be the authoritative account of the Enron scandal.

There were dozens of books about Watergate, but only All the President's Men gave readers the full story, with all the drama and nuance and exclusive reporting. And thirty years later, if you're going to read only one book on Watergate, that's still the one. Today, Enron is the biggest business story of our time, and Fortune senior writers Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are the new Woodward and Bernstein.

Remarkably, it was just two years ago that Enron was thought to epitomize a great New Economy company, with its skyrocketing profits and share price. But that was before Fortune published an article by McLean that asked a seemingly innocent question: How exactly does Enron make money? From that point on, Enron's house of cards began to crumble. Now, McLean and Elkind have investigated much deeper, to offer the definitive book about the Enron scandal and the fascinating people behind it.

Meticulously researched and character driven, Smartest Guys in the Room takes the reader deep into Enron's past—and behind the closed doors of private meetings. Drawing on a wide range of unique sources, the book follows Enron's rise from obscurity to the top of the business world to its disastrous demise. It reveals as never before major characters such as Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andy Fastow, as well as lesser known players like Cliff Baxter and Rebecca Mark. Smartest Guys in the Room is a story of greed, arrogance, and deceit—a microcosm of all that is wrong with American business today. Above all, it's a fascinating human drama that will prove to be the authoritative account of the Enron scandal.

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    On a cool Texas night in late January, Cliff Baxter slipped out of bed. He stuffed pillows under the covers so his sleeping wife wouldn't notice he was gone. Then he stepped quietly through his large suburban Houston home, taking care not to awaken his two children. The door alarm didn't make a sound as he entered the garage; he'd disabled the security system before turning in. Then, dressed in blue jogging slacks, a blue T-shirt, and moccasin slippers, he climbed into his new black Mercedes-Benz S500 and drove out into the night.

    At 43, John Clifford Baxter, the son of a Long Island policeman, had made it big in Texas. Before quitting his job eight months earlier, he had served as vice chairman of a great American corporation, capping a decade-long career as the company's top deal maker. Baxter was rich, too—thanks to a generous helping of stock options, a millionaire many times over. But as he cruised the empty streets of Sugar Land, Texas, Baxter was drowning in dark thoughts. Always given to mood swings, he had become deeply depressed in recent days, consumed by the spectacular scandal that had engulfed his old company.

    Everyone seemed to be after him. A congressional committee had already called; the FBI and SEC would surely be next. Would he have to testify against his friends? The plaintiffs' lawyers had named him as a defendant in a huge securities-fraud suit. Baxter was convinced they were having him tailed—and rummaging through his family's trash. Then there was the media, pestering him at home a dozen or more times a day: Did he know what had gone wrong? How could America's seventh-biggest company just blow up? Where had the billions gone? No one, at this early stage, viewed Baxter as a major player in the company's crash. Yet he took it all personally. In phone calls and visits with friends, he railed for hours about the scandal's taint. It's as if "they're calling us child molesters," he complained. "That will never wash off."

    Desperate to get away, he'd spent part of the previous week sailing in the Florida Keys. Sailing was one of Baxter's passions. For years, he'd decompressed floating on Galveston Bay aboard his 72-foot yacht, Tranquility Base. But he'd sold the boat several months earlier. When Baxter returned from Florida, his doctor prescribed antidepressants and sleeping pills and told him to see a psychiatrist. He'd called the shrink's office that day to make an appointment. But when the receptionist explained that the schedule was booked until February, Baxter hung up—he wasn't going to wait that long.

    Less than 48 hours later, at about 2:20 A.M. on January 25, 2002, Baxter stopped his Mercedes on Palm Royale Boulevard, a mile and a half from his home. It was cloudy and a bit chilly that evening by Texas standards—about 48 degrees—but the sedan was tuned to an interior temperature of precisely 79. An open package of Newport Lights sat in the center console, a bottle of Evian water in the cup holder. Baxter's black leather wallet lay on the passenger seat. Baxter parked the car in the middle of the street, with the doors locked, the engine running, and the headlights burning. Then he lifted a silver .357 Magnum revolver to his right temple and fired a bullet into his head.



    Seven days later, Cliff Baxter's friends from Enron gathered to mourn. The Houston energy giant's collapse into bankruptcy had already become the biggest scandal of the new century. Baxter's death had stoked the media bonfire and tossed a fresh element of tragedy into a bubbling stewpot of intrigue. Enron's influence ranged widely—from Wall...

Table of Contents-
  • The Smartest Guys in the RoomAuthors' Notes and Acknowledgments
    Cast of Characters
    Our Values
    Introduction

    1. Lunch on a Silver Platter
    2. Please Keep Making Us Millions
    3. We Were the Apostles
    4. The First Prima Donna
    5. Guys with Spikes
    6. The Empress of Energy
    7. The 15 Percent Solution
    8. A Recipe for Disaster
    9. The Klieg-Light Syndrome
    10. The Hotel Kenneth-Lay-a
    11. Andy Fastow's Secrets
    12. The Big Enchilada
    13. An Unnatural Act
    14. The Beating Heart of Enron
    15. Everybody Loves Enron
    16. When Pigs Could Fly
    17. Gaming California
    18. Bandwidth Hog
    19. Ask Why, Asshole
    20. I Want to Resign
    21. The $45 Million Question
    22. We Have No Cash!

    Epilogue: Isn't Anybody Sorry?

    Index

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    October 13, 2003
    Fortune
    reporter McLean's article in early 2001 questioning Enron's high valuation was cited by many as an early harbinger of the company's downfall, but she refrains from tooting her own horn, admitting that the article "barely scratched the surface" of what was wrong at America's seventh-largest corporation. The story of its plunge into bankruptcy (co-written with magazine colleague Elkind) barely touches upon the personal flamboyances highlighted in earlier Enron books, focusing instead on the shady finances and the corporate culture that made them possible. Former CEO Jeff Skilling gets much of the blame for hiring people who constantly played by their own rules, creating a "deeply dysfunctional workplace" where "financial deception became almost inevitable," but specific accountability for the underhanded transactions is passed on to others, primarily chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, whose financial conflicts of interest are recounted in exacting detail. (Skilling seems to have cooperated extensively with the authors, though clearly not to universal advantage.) A companywide sense of entitlement, particularly at the top executive levels, comes under close scrutiny, although the extravagant habits of those like Ken Lay, while blatant, are presented without fanfare. The real detail is saved for transactions like the deals that led to the California energy crisis and a 1986 scandal, mirroring the problems faced a decade later, that left the company "less than worthless" until a last-minute rescue. The book's sober financial analysis supplements that of Mimi Swartz's Power Failure
    , while offering additional perspectives that flesh out the details of the Enron story.

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