'It was terrible, but life goes on' – Enron UK staff meet after 10 years
Nick Clark is the arts correspondent of The Independent. He joined the newspaper in June 2007, initially reporting on the stock markets. He has covered beats including the City, and technology, media and telecoms and made the switch to arts in December 2011. He has also contributed articles to the sports section.
Monday 05 December 2011
Hundreds of former Enron Europe employees met in London last week to mark the 10th anniversary of the company's collapse, many for the first time since the scandal erupted.
Enron employed 21,000 people before it filed for bankruptcy on 2 December 2001, of whom 1,400 worked in London, the company's European base.
Richard Harper, who was vice-president of gas analytics for the European business at the time of the collapse, and who organised last Thursday's event, said: "It was great to see people after 10 years. They feel a mutual experience, bound together by living it."
More than 250 people who suffered in the wake of the collapse met in the Texas Embassy Cantina restaurant close to Trafalgar Square, a nod to the company's Houston roots. The event also marked the 21st birthday of the creation of Enron Europe. Mr Harper joined in 1994 when there were fewer than 70 employees in London and said "aggressive expansion" followed. "Enron was a great place to work," he added. "It was phenomenally creative. The aim was to have the best IQ per square foot on any trading floor."
There were a few signals in the run-up to the bankruptcy, he said, but no one had any idea about the cover-up in Houston. Management figures, including group chairman Ken Lay, chief executive Jeffrey Skilling and chief financial officer Andy Fastow would later become names synonymous with corporate corruption. When the scandal was uncovered it sent shockwaves through corporate America and left thousands of employees facing the loss of their life savings. "The anger is extremely deep in the US. People lost everything. Europe was a very different place. Over here people took a hit but did not get wiped out," Mr Harper said.
In London, 1,100 staff were made redundant almost immediately, while a few hundred remained to unwind Enron's trading positions. Mr Harper said: "There was a lot of anger and a lack of understanding about how it could all go so wrong so quickly. We felt let down by the management in Houston."
After meeting his ex-colleagues on Thursday, Mr Harper said that for most it was "like a different age ... There isn't an overriding sense of bitterness or anger like there is in the US. It was terrible at the time, but life goes on".
PricewaterhouseCoopers sold off Enron's European arm in pieces rather than as a going concern and some of its subsidiaries remain operational.
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