Easy come, easy go

One of the few Enron employees who still has a job expresses little regret -- even though he lost a "colossal" amount of money.

Published January 23, 2002 8:30PM (EST)

Andrew still has a desk on the trading floor in Enron's new corporate headquarters in downtown Houston. Thick with flat-screen panel displays, 60-inch price-ticker monitors and hundreds of spare, modular desks, it's a workspace he describes with boyish hyperbole as "the coolest place you've ever seen." The trading center occupies the first six floors of the 40-story headquarters, designed to show off Enron's frenetic stable of hundreds of deal makers in action. See for yourself: The deregulated energy markets come alive!

Except, of course, the traders are gone now, laid off en masse on Dec. 2: "Black Monday," the day when 4,000 local workers lost their jobs after Enron filed for bankruptcy.

On the floor where Andrew -- whose name has been changed to prevent management reprisal -- works, only about 40 Enron employees still occupy a space designed for 800. He works in the corporation's operating company, Enron Energy Services, which literally had 1,700 employees one day, and the next day, 200. It's the same arm of Enron that famously profited from California's power crisis.

What's it like to be among the living dead inside the biggest bankruptcy in history, while the mother ship is disassembled to feed the creditors? By Andrew's account, it beats collecting unemployment and might even be better than working at the sickening pace that Enron demanded back in the days when the company appeared solvent.

In his tenure at Enron, Andrew, a technology worker in his early 30s who is the father of small children, grew accustomed to working 16-hour days. In the tense days at the office just before Enron's December layoffs, some Enron employees brought beer to work to chug away their worries. But Andrew told Salon that he's still working, not drinking on the job. He's even withholding judgment against Enron's disgraced upper management, and says that the daily scandal headlines are beginning to bore him.

What's changed around the office since the bankruptcy?

It's pretty vacated. They let us move ourselves all together. Moves post-bankruptcy happen with a chair, you put your computer in your chair and drag it.

It was so sad when we first went bankrupt. We kept getting memo after memo after memo about all the business services that you couldn't use, like FedEx. That was the worst one. FedEx is now cash-up-front. The prices for Cokes went up by a dime. The Coke machine went from 50 cents to 60 cents. Parking went up by $5 a month.

I tried to call one of the ex-employees who just moved to Indonesia. That didn't work. You can't dial internationally anymore. It's not that bad. You can still dial long distance. Every now and then we order pizza when we're there late, and we can still do that.

But we won't be getting much of a bonus this year, unless we get a retention bonus, which they're talking about. They claim to be currently in talks with the bankruptcy court trying to negotiate retention bonuses.

What's the atmosphere like?

Pretty quiet, because we're not doing new deals. It's a lot slower-paced. I still work at least eight hours a day, but they're more normal. Every now and again, I have to go in really early, but not very often.

There's not a gun to your head. There is still so much stuff to do, but it's not known what will come of anything that we do now. You could be setting up the systems to be tip-top, ready-to-go when they turn the key back on to do new deals, or it could just get thrown away.

What was the pace like before?

Way too fast. It was great. It was fun. But it got to be a little too much. It was nonstop.

Is everybody there still worried they might be laid off at any moment?

Everybody in Enron Energy Services is secure for a little bit. They laid off the big first wave, and they're not planning ... [trails off]. I don't know. [Laughs.]

We have billion-dollar portfolio power deals, and we have to do something with them. We can't just say: "OK, we're bankrupt. Bye." It's a part of the business with long-term contracts, and it's not in anybody's best interest to say "OK, we just default on everything." Because then the creditors don't get any money. They're out to get the maximum value out of everything. So, the company is going through selling off or defaulting on deals, and deciding if they can sell the ones that are profitable.

What do you think of the reports that CEO Ken Lay was boosting the stock to employees when he knew the company was in trouble?

The problem is, I don't know if anybody is ever going to prove that he had ill will or not. You're right, it makes him look awful bad. And that's all this whole thing has been, a bunch of people being caught in really bad-looking situations.

So, you're not even convinced Lay did anything wrong?

I don't know. I'd just like to see what all happens. Obviously, some people were doing some funky things.

Did you lose money on Enron stock?

In three years, I managed to lose a colossal amount of money, but almost 80 percent of it was free extra money that they'd given me outside of my regular salary and regular performance bonus.

I lost the 3 percent match on my 401K contribution. And I think that's what lots of the millions of dollars that other people lost was too. They match your 401K in stock, but you can put your part in whatever you want. My 6 percent was in mutual funds, and their 3 percent was in stock. And then, the company just gave you an extra 5 percent of your salary a year in stock, as a retention plan.

It sort of stinks to have your money that grows at a rapid rate disappear, but easy come, easy go.

It's seems despite the daily revelations in the news about Enron, you're still withholding judgment.

I like the company so much that I'm willing to give them the benefit of the doubt until they get proved wrong. It's not like it's going to get swept under the carpet.

So, you meet someone now and you say: "I work for Enron." What do they say?

Most people we've talked to recently at our church, they all look really sad and caring for you: "Oh, I'm so sorry."

By Katharine Mieszkowski

Katharine Mieszkowski is a senior writer for Salon.

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