Are you curious to know how Enron acted after the World Trade Center Attacks on September 11, 2001? Do you want to know how Enron employees behaved in the less than 3 month time span between the attacks and its December 2, 2001 bankruptcy filing?
I probably do not even need to remind you how many (perhaps, nearly all) corporations immediately responded to tragedy. We all remember the common phrase “United we stand” that was plastered on store fronts, written into commercials, and spoken on the news. 9/11 made corporations into families, and inspired them to significantly increase their levels of corporate responsibility. The average of more than 500 corporate gifts was over 1 million dollars each. Exxon Mobile was one of the largest donors, making a contribution of $16.25 million. The contributions of fireman, businessman, doctors, chefs, students, and psychologists to help victims, victims’ families, and rescue efforts were endless. These corporations and their members showed how the tragedy rallied their patriotism, and in some way made them reappraise their lives.
Now immediately following 9/11, in fact, 6 days after the event, would you ever believe that a corporation would act exceedingly unethically? During a time when the government had their priorities straight—to help mend our country—could you ever imagine that a corporation would take advantage of the government’s diverted attention? Well, at Enron, the saying lived on that “old habits die hard.” While other citizens demonstrated what it means to be an American, Jeff Skilling participated in insider trading, and securities-fraud. On September 17 he sold 500,000 Enron shares for $15.6 million claiming the sale was strictly related to the impact of 9/11, and that he held no knowledge that Enron was near bankruptcy. He said upon leaving the CEO position on August 14th for “personal reasons,” he thought the company was in good hands. Later, he was, as we all know, found guilty of these and many other charges. In addition, 21 other people were also founded guilty for committing crimes, many of which took place after 9/11. Including one crime by Ken Lay, who lied to the public when he told them they should not be worried about the October 17, 2001 third quarter losses because they were due to onetime charges only.
The intent of Enron employees, and that of the terrorists were by no means the same, but both significantly depleted our level of trust in society. Both represent a “meltdown of confidence in our system” (Harvard Business School). Americans could not have complete trust in the CIA to protect us, nor could they have complete trust in corporations to act ethically. However, both events can be said to have taught valuable lessons, and heightened levels of corporate responsibility. So, my question is: do we now have more trust?
Do you think 9/11 made a lasting impact on corporate responsibility? Do you think that the Enron scandal made a lasting impact on corporate responsibility? If not, do you think that “history repeats itself because the nature man does not change” (Harvard Business School)?
Take the poll: