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Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron [Paperback]

Robert Bryce
4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Jan. 8 2004
After the shocking collapse of Enron in fall, 2001 came an equally shocking series of disclosures about how America's seventh-largest company had destroyed itself. There were unethical deals, offshore accounts, and accounting irregularities. There were Wall Street analysts who seemed to have been asleep on the job. There were the lies top executives told so that they could line their own pockets while workers and shareholders lost billions.

But after all these disclosures, the question remains: Why? Why did a thriving, innovative company with rock-solid cash flow and reliable earnings suddenly flame out in a maelstrom of corruption, fraud and skulduggery? The answer, Texas business journalist Robert Bryce reveals in this incisive and entertaining book, is that bad business practices begin with human beings. Pipe Dreams traces Enron's astounding transformation from a small regional gas pipeline company into an energy Goliath… and then tracks step-by-step, business decision by business decision, extra-marital affair by extra-marital affair, how, when and why the culture of Enron began to go rotten, and who was responsible.

The story of Enron's fall isn't just a story about accounting procedures; it's a story about people. Bryce tells that story with all the personality, passion, humor, and inside dope you'd hope for, and the result is an un-putdownable read in the tradition of Barbarians at the Gate and The Predators' Ball.

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From Publishers Weekly

Finally, an Enron book that actually explains what happened at Enron. Bryce, an Austin, Tex., journalist familiar with the energy and telecommunications industries, offers a colorful account of the most spectacular corporate self-destruction in American history. Tracing the company's history, he shows how deal-focused executives like CEO Jeff Skilling transformed a fiscally responsible energy supplier into an out-of-control trading firm. He describes risky practices, like "mark-to-market" accounting and shell corporations, in clear, concise language that doesn't confuse readers who don't have MBAs. The book relies heavily on good ol' boy colloquialisms (e.g., "If [George W.] Bush had been any more simpatico to Enron, he could've been charged with a misdemeanor under the state of Texas' buggery laws") but backs up every unusual assertion, revealing, for example, connections between Bush and Enron going back to the mid-1980s. Not that Democrats were innocent; there's also extensive coverage on what Enron got from government agencies during the Clinton administration. While the emphasis on sexual misconduct among the top brass and its correlation to the financial shenanigans is arguable, Bryce makes a reasonable case for former chairman Ken Lay's unwillingness to control his staff's behavior-and inability to lead by example. This isn't just the first book to make sense out of the debacle; it's a vivid cautionary tale about the consequences of the lurid excesses-personal and professional-of the recently ended economic bubble, where corporations and their employees were so obsessed with acquiring wealth they became "dumber than a box of hammers" about making-and saving-money.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

The first Enron expose (The Anatomy of Greed, by Brian Cruver [BKL UF Ag 02]) was a view from the inside by a former Enron employee with a focus on the final months leading to Enron's demise. This one is a comprehensive piece of investigative journalism that gives a much larger overview of the energy industry, the history of Houston, and the complete story of how a medium-sized gas pipeline company became an international energy developer and trader in the complex world of energy derivatives. Along the way, Austin Chronicle reporter Bryce reveals the political history of "The Crooked E" with its ties to the Bush family and Senator Phil Gramm, who, without shame, sponsored legislation that directly benefited Enron and allowed the company to conceal its debts. All of the high-level players at Enron are profiled, and you get an excellent sense of their personalities and plenty of gossip about the sexual infidelities that ran rampant with this group of executives. Most importantly, Bryce unveils the intricate accounting schemes that allowed Enron to switch from a healthy cash flow business into one that put all its emphasis on trading revenues while ignoring the massive expenses that would ultimately pull the company into bankruptcy. Bryce's account is a prime example of how greed, arrogance, and influence lead to corruption, deception, and ruin. David Siegfried
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Uber-Execucrats Get Stomped July 16 2004
Out of many books available on the Enron travesty, this one probably offers the most bang for the buck with its fast-moving and incredibly informative structure. Bryce has sufficient skills as an investigative journalist and provides a healthy mix of history, finance, and politics, allowing the general reader to understand what happened with that ridiculous corporate house of cards at Enron. Bryce's main theory is that the company was done in by a lack of hard cash, as just about all of its revenues were long-term contractual deals in which cash would actually come in slowly and periodically, although the "revenues" could be claimed immediately through preposterous over-use of "mark-to-market" accounting. Meanwhile, greedy executives who set up such deals were paid millions in hard cash bonuses immediately, long before a single cent of actual cash was made for the company. This in turn led to preposterous deal-making shenanigans that were little more than schemes to cook the books and claim profits, such as a bizarre web of tax havens and false subsidiaries set up by the crookedest executive of all, Andy Fastow.
Bryce's cash-centric theories on the Enron downfall are open to scrutiny by financial experts, and could possibly be shot down, but that doesn't affect the quality of the book's condemnation of the Enron executives and the suffering they caused for employees and investors. Bryce has a wonderfully biting and sarcastic writing style that leads to some unexpected chuckles, with quips like "there's no sex in laying pipe," "Texas-sized sphincter," and my personal favorite "uber-execucrat" (referring in particular to Enron's purchased statesman Henry Kissinger).
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great reporting by Robert Bryce May 15 2004
The victory of Pipe Dreams lies in its readability. As US prosecutors have explained in their dogged attempts to nail down a case against Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling, "If WorldCom was arithmetic, then Enron is advanced calculus." Despite the inherent complexity of Enron's downfall (derivatives, SPEs, mark-to-market accounting, and 'pre-paids' all figure heavily here), Robert Bryce tells a compelling, gripping tale.
Bryce's reporting mixes the personalities (all the main ones are covered here - Skilling, Lay, Rebecca Mark, Ken Rice, Lou Pai, Andy Fastow, Michael Kopper, etc.) and the financial details. Bryce's mastery is he gives you a flavor for shady dealings like Fastow-created partnerships such as the now notorious LJM1 and LJM2. He explains their intent, references a chart that speaks to their inherent complexity, winks at the reader (hey, he says, obfuscation was the point here), and then points to their fatal flaws (e.g., Fastow sitting on both sides of the table, financial solvency based upon a constantly-rising stock price, etc.)
Bryce is a reporter that can interweave facts like that with delicious stories of Rebecca Mark's high dollar globetrotting, replete with obscene private plane trips - often flying her, alone, to far-flung locales - and wonderfully evocative stories of her making speeches to water works executives...and dramatically flinging off her full-length sable coat as she ascends to the stage. Well, any hack writer can't pull that off. Pipe Dreams is a combination of good old-fashioned reporting (200+ interviews) and great writing chops. In short, it's a great read.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Tail Isn't Far Behind Jan. 10 2004
The author explains that fish rot at the head but the tail isn't far behind. Every journalistic treatment of Enron makes the same mistake. They excoriate higher ups but rank and file workers get a free pass.
If my employer flew first class, subsisted on Steak and Lobster, and allowed employees to acquire stock options worth a million dollars I would be suspicious. Public school teachers, police officers, and nurses don't get a million dollar retirement.
My dad was a Vice President for Medical Affairs. He had three deans and twenty department heads under him but his compensation package would make some mid-level Enron people cringe.
I would also wonder if my employer paid an employee's way through Harvard Business School especially if that employee already had a graduate degree behind her.
The most obvious indictment against Enron's rank and file is that they let the company's third world transactions go unnoticed. You cant get Johnny Walker out of a cactus and you cant rob out the world's poorest countries and still sleep at night.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The Inside Story from the First Whistleblower Jan. 9 2004
Sherron Watkins was Enron's vice president of corporate development. She was 42 years old and had worked for a decade at Enron. She was high up enough, or grumpy enough, to send the head guy at Enron a letter. It was a pull-no-punches, put-it-on-record letter telling him for seven pages that his company was more or less a fraud. She kept on working for Enron through a congressional investigation, covered in front pages across the country. In the news media, it was "Enron whistle-blower" Sherron Watkins". Unfortunately, concerns like hers seem to have been old news in corner offices at Enron. And at other companies. And she may well have written it purely to cover herself. To protect that resume when the inevitable happened. The "CYA" letter is as old as business itself. But she got a reaction. She made sure she got a reaction. She did start the dominoes falling in the Enron scandal. This is the true inside story. If you go through this you will have remarkable insights into the personalities and misdeeds of the people who are now indicted, on trial, or convicted. As the news reports come out, having read this you will have a better picture of what really went on.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best on Enron
I have read about four of the books on Enron. This is one of the best ones. It starts to by telling the history of Houston, and as a former Houstonian I found it interesting. Read more
Published on Oct. 18 2003 by bert868
5.0 out of 5 stars Enron Fast, Not-So-Cheap, and Out of Control
Outstanding. Does a great job laying out the personalities at the top, which is essential for an understanding of how it is that this particular company got so out of control. Read more
Published on Sept. 26 2003 by Amazon Customer
3.0 out of 5 stars Not the best Enron book
Read Sherron Watkins' book Power Failure instead. Its a better read and gets the story right.
Published on May 16 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Priming the Enron Pump
Penn Square was peanuts. Robert Bryce's witty racountement of the rise and fall of Enron reminds this reader of Mark Singer's equally entertaining tale of the itty-bitty shopping... Read more
Published on April 26 2003 by TundraVision
4.0 out of 5 stars Ozymandias redux
Meet Ken Lay, Chairman of Enron, who saw fit to send a corporate jet to retrieve his daughter from the south of France after she tired of partying with The Beautiful People. Read more
Published on March 22 2003 by Ed O'Donnell
5.0 out of 5 stars The policy flaws that allowed scandal to happen
Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, And The Death Of Enron by Robert Bryce offers a compelling and in-depth descriptive survey and history of the origins of the Enron financial scandal, the... Read more
Published on March 6 2003 by Midwest Book Review
This is a very readable account. The text opens stating, "My premise throughout this book is that Enron's failure wasn't due to faulty accounting or poor regulation.... Read more
Published on Feb. 21 2003 by E. E Pofahl
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating Expose
I enjoyed the description of corporate officers consumed with their own financial bottom line and with the machinations they used to pull it off. Read more
Published on Feb. 10 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars An important book
Pipe Dreams is a wonderful addition to Brian Cruver's "Anatomy of Greed" but Pipe Dreams provides a lot more explanatory detail that almost any reader will find... Read more
Published on Jan. 27 2003 by K. G Havemann
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