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The Smartest Guys in the Room
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Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind are Fortune senior writers. McLean's March 2001 article in Fortune, "Is Enron Overpriced?," was the first in a national publication to openly question the company's dealings. Elkind, an award-winning investigative reporter, has written for The New York Times Magazine and The Washington Post.

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Take your chances: this study is embargoed. Fortune writer McLean's "Is Enron Overpriced?" shows she had doubts about Enron way back in March 2001. Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

...the most comprehensive picture yet of how the company went off the rails. The sheer accumulation of detail makes it possible for the first time to understand how Enron got away with its blend of hubris and incompetence for so long. . . This is more than a business story. It is also about what can happen to any institution when weak and complacent leadership allows itself to be swept along by strong vested interests and the mood of the times. * Richartd Lambert, ex editor of Financial Times and member of the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee *

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. (Oct. 13) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.

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