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Have a heart for the poor, struggling Enron execs

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By JAN GLIDEWELL, Times Columnist

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 3, 2002

It is high time that all of those whiney former Enron employees and investors get over their self involvement and realize what real pain is inflicted on the top executives of a company that goes belly up.

Sure, some people's retirements are shot and, if they can find new jobs, they will be lucky if they can quit work at 80. Sure, lots of kids' college education funds burned up in the flames of a corporate holocaust.

But former Enron Chairman Kenneth Lay and his wife, Linda, could find themselves stuck with as little as their $7.1-million condo, plus whatever they may or may not have in offshore accounts.

During an interview Monday on NBC, Linda Lay told a reporter that the family had "nothing left," and was "fighting for liquidity" to avoid bankruptcy.

(Note to former Enron employees and investors: This is not the kind of liquidity problems faced by those of you who can't pay your water bills, afford milk for your children or pay for gasoline for your 12-year-old cars. It's a term used by rich people who don't want to say "money.")

How will the Lays ever manage?

According to the New York Times, they own an apartment on the 33rd floor (some accounts say it is the entire 33rd floor) of a luxury apartment building and the condo's value has been estimated at $7.1-million.

You know, after you pay off the MasterCard bill, have the Mercedes serviced and go pick up a few things at Target, whatever is left out of $7.1-million will buy a lot of cheap beer to stock the refrigerator in whatever shack you wind up in.

According to the New York Times, the Lays also have four other properties in Aspen, Colo., three of which a real estate agent says are for sale. Come on, would you deny them just one teeny-tiny getaway for an occasional ski weekend?

Two of the properties, a five-bedroom "cabin style" home and a four-bedroom riverfront home, are on sale for $6-million each and the Lays have a contract to sell some undeveloped property listed at $2.9-million.

It goes on, but I think those of us who are weighing making the car insurance payment or keeping the lights on this month can understand and sympathize with the Lays and other unfortunates caught in the downfall of a company whose executives kept saying everything was fine when, apparently by sheer happenstance, rank and file employees were barred from selling the stock their bosses were dropping like a bad habit.

Mrs. Lay says that the approximately $300-million in cash and stock her husband got in compensation over the past four years is all gone and she says that he didn't really know the company was in serious trouble until two or three days before everything fell apart.

I've heard of captains going down with their ships before, but I think if this guy had been running the Titanic he would have notified the passengers that the ship, in its final collision, was just stopping to take on ice.

And of course, like everyone involved in everything from bad city politics to international terrorism and corporate economic collapses, Mrs. Lay does have at least a partial explanation for what went on.

"Mrs. Lay put some of the blame on the media and the hysteria she says that the media has created in Houston," said Lisa Myers, who did the NBC interview.

Imagine, people watching their employment and entire life savings go down the toilet, while their bosses lie to them, getting hysterical. Of course it was the media's fault -- media like television, which Kenneth Lay used in October, six weeks before the company went bankrupt, to say everything was going to be just fine.

Another part of the NBC interview transcript caught my eye. It says that Mrs. Lay and her children (all grown) are breaking their silence to rebut what they say are terrible misconceptions about Kenneth Lay.

Then the scene cuts to three persons, ostensibly, from the context, his children, facing the camera to tell of his generosity and ethics and how his not cashing in (all) of his Enron stock shows he didn't know what was going on.

The persons making those courageous statements of support are identified in the transcript as Unidentified Woman #1, Unidentified Man #1 and Unidentified Woman #2.

It was brave of them to stand up and be almost counted.

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