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<nettime> Was Enron Also a Cult?
Paul D. Miller on Fri, 25 Jan 2002 04:01:52 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> Was Enron Also a Cult?

this reminds me of the old Greek/Egyptian scene - every idea had its own
soapbox, and the agora was just a place to hang out and argue with alot of
other folks... but of course, given the leverage and political clout Enron
had, this is the end result... the agora gets pretty damn small...  etc



1.23.2002 00:05

Enron cultists follow the leader
WAS ENRON also a cult?

Enron is a big company going down the tubes, to be sure. But was it also a
corporate version of the Branch Davidians or Heaven's Gate?  And did
Enron's chairman, Kenneth L. Lay, operate in much the same way as David
Koresh and Marshall Applewhite? "There are elements of cultish behavior in
Enron," asserts Dave Arnott, management professor at Dallas Baptist
University. Arnott is author of Corporate Cults, which describes how some
companies take over their workers' lives, using methods similar to those
employed by traditional cults. The book identifies other all-consuming
organizations as corporate cults. They include Southwest Airlines,
Microsoft and Nike (where some employees had the swoosh logo tattooed onto
their ankles).

	Cults share three basic traits, according to Arnott. (1) They
demand complete devotion of their followers, (2) they have a charismatic
leader, and (3) they foster separation from the community. Enron scores on
all three. Enron nurtured a quasi-religious belief in the company's
mission and its leader's greatness. It ran elaborate motivational
sessions, where moderators would distribute inspirational rocks bearing
the words "integrity," "respect" and "Enron." Many employees referred to
Enron as their "family," and only team players need apply.

	Workers at the Houston headquarters spoke of devoting 12-hour days
to the company. They skipped lunch. Anyone who didn't put body and soul
into the job got fired (as did two employees who criticized the company on
Internet message boards). At any hint of attack, they'd rush to their
company's defense. Journalists who criticized Enron's role in the
California energy crisis received piles of angry mail from the Enron
ranks. Cathie and Wayne Stevens both worked at Enron's Pacific General
Electric subsidiary in Portland, Ore. They had put all of their retirement
money in Enron stock, ignoring the advice of a Paine Webber counselor to
diversify their assets. Here is how Cathie described the couple's sense of
personal connection with Enron: "We're gonna sit with it -- you know,
believe in a company."  Note how differently the media have treated job
cuts at Ford Motor Company and at Enron. The stories went: Too bad about
the layoffs at Ford; the workers just have to find new jobs. Reportage on
the tale of Enron, by contrast, took on a more tragic cast. After all,
these people had given theirs souls at the office. After losing both their
jobs and retirement assets, Enron workers recounted their "lost faith" and
"sense of betrayal." Such phrases underscored a deep emotional
relationship with their employer. Enron meant far more than a weekly
paycheck. It provided a way of life. Arnott wrote: "In corporate cults,
the leader is often a workaholic, good looking, and suave, and/or has a
famous reputation for business acumen." Ken Lay fit the bill. Lay stood
right next to the president. A central figure in Houston's power elite, he
watched Astros games from the best seats at Enron Field. He raised $100
million for the University of Houston, and supported the symphony and the
ballet. There was talk of his running for mayor. And he convinced the
world that he possessed a business genius of mystical proportions. Only
last June, The Economist gushed about the EnronOnline product as possibly
the "most successful Internet venture of any company in any industry
anywhere." If sophisticated analysts got sucked into the Enron cult of
invincibility, what chance did brainwashed employees have? By September,
the stock had already lost half their value and the CEO had just resigned.
But all Lay had to say to his flock was that the stock was fine, and they
stayed. The greatest indication of Enron's cultish behavior, in Arnott's
opinion, was its separation from everyday life and language. "They wrote
their reports so that the external financial, regulatory and accounting
communities didn't know what they were doing," he said.  The
unintelligible and confused scripture of David Koresh and Marshall
Applewhite had much the same purpose: to keep the outside world at bay.
There is, of course, one big difference between Lay and traditional cult
leaders. Koresh and Applewhite perished with their followers. Lay had no
intention of sharing their fate. While urging his employees to stay the
course with Kool-Aid, he cashed out of Enron stock to the tune of many
millions. No team-playing fool he. Froma Harrop is a Journal editorial
writer and syndicated columnist.  She may be reached by e-mail at:
fharrop {AT} projo.com.

"None are more hopelessly enslaved than those who falsely believe 
they are free...."
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

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