Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Enron's Jeffery Skilling and his lessons learned

1) Take the Fifth.

Contrary to his attorneys' advice, Jeff Skilling did not exercise his Fifth Amendment rights. He wanted to explain Enron's business decisions and couldn't bear the thought of being silent. Skilling said that he didn't regret testifying, but that he "talked too much and educated the prosecution on issues that they would otherwise have had to figure out on their own." In other words, Skilling now sees that testifying may have hurt his chances for an acquittal, but he thought it was a risk worth taking to be able to speak openly about what happened. In retrospect, it wasn't.

2) Go on a PR offensive.

During the four years leading up to the trial, Skilling was visible in Congress and in the courtroom, but as a discredited CEO, he wasn't focused on his standing in the public's eyes. Looking back, he regrets not maintaining relationships with key industry advocates in and outside the media. In addition, Skilling wished he had developed a media strategy to influence public opinion and worked to change the reputation of himself and his firm -- something he now believes could have had a positive influence on the outcome of his case.

3) Avoid sarcasm.

In May 2001, Skilling famously said, "They're onto us" to a group of Enron executives about a negative analyst report on the company. Five years later he was defending himself by claiming that his comment was sarcasm, not an admission of guilt. Skilling nervously chuckled as he recalled when he was publicly edgy and impatient during the episode, but he quickly got serious and seemed self-reflective when he said, "Sarcasm is easily misinterpreted and can be a tremendous liability."

The entire interview is here.

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