Excerpt from “The Smartest Guys in the Room”
…the Enron PR department decided that if Mohammed wouldn’t come to the mountain, they would have to visit Fortune. The company sent a small contingent to New York to meet with Bethany and her editors, including me. Andy Fastow, the company’s chief financial officer, led the Enron team.
It would later be blindingly obvious that Fastow had not told us the truth–how could he, given that much of Enron’s earnings were the result of accounting manipulations that created the illusion of profitability? But even in the moment it was clear that Fastow’s goal was pretty much the same as those financials Bethany had been poring through: to obfuscate and confuse. I can’t remember all the details, but I vividly recall Bethany asking sharp, pointed questions about the company’s business model and Fastow responding with lengthy, nearly unintelligible answers about how Enron was like Toyota, how it should be thought of as a logistic company, etc., etc.–even though Enron’s main business wasn’t actually moving anything from place to place, but rather trading.
And then something happened that Bethany and I would never forget. As the meeting was drawing to a close and the Enron executives were putting on their coats, Fastow turned to Bethany and said, “I don’t care what you say about Enron. Just don’t make me look bad.”