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Making the Best of a Bad Situation

Patricia Harned | March 31, 2009

Among the many, many tales of ethical lapses at Enron, one of the more poignant and painful episodes involved an employee meeting that happened just before the company fell to pieces in late 2001.

A worker asked Ken Lay, then president of Enron, about rumors of the company’s failing health. The employee wanted to know whether his job and stock holdings were safe. In his charming, fatherly way, Lay assured the man that his position was secure and that an investment in Enron was a shrewd way to plan for the future. Lay even encouraged employees to sell the rest of their portfolios and put it all in Enron. Lay himself, of course, was quietly selling his shares, cashing before the iceberg hit.

I’ve been thinking about this sad vignette a lot lately. Not because I believe that most senior leaders would do something so unscrupulous. It’s because I’ve been thinking about that poor employee—and his colleagues—who trusted corporate...

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