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Smartest Guys In The Room Hardcover – Sep 15 2003

4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Portfolio; 1 edition (Oct. 14 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591840082
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591840084
  • Product Dimensions: 16.5 x 3.7 x 24.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 907 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars 37 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #93,418 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

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Like its subject, The Smartest Guys in the Room is ambitious, grand in scope, and ruthless in its dealings. Unlike Enron, the Texas-based energy giant that has come to represent the post-millennium collapse of 1990s go-go corporate culture, it's also ultimately successful. Penned by Fortune scribes Bethany McLean and Peter Elkind, the 400-page-plus chronicle of the scandal digs deep inside the numbers while, wisely, maintaining focus on the "smart guys" deep-frying the books. The likes of paternal but disengaged CEO Ken Lay (dubbed "Kenny Boy" by George W. Bush, one of many prominent public figures with whom he rubbed shoulders), cutthroat man-behind-the-curtain Jeff Skilling, and ethically blind numbers whiz Andy Fastow vividly come to life as they make a mockery of conventional accounting practices and grow increasingly arrogant and bind to their collective hubris. They're not a likable lot, and the writers find it difficult to suppress their astonishment and revulsion with the crew who rapidly went from golden boys and girls of the financial world to pariahs when the bill finally came due. The authors' unrepressed sarcasms are more than often unnecessarily given the scope of the outrage. Enron's leading lights were or a time celebrated for their ability to concoct nearly unfathomable business schemes to hide mounting shortfalls and keeping track on their machinations can be a chore, but, by sticking hard to the story behind the fall, McLean and Elkind have reported and written the definitive account of the Enron debacle. --Steven Stolder

From Publishers Weekly

Fortune reporter McLean's article in early 2001 questioning Enron's high valuation was cited by many as an early harbinger of the company's downfall, but she refrains from tooting her own horn, admitting that the article "barely scratched the surface" of what was wrong at America's seventh-largest corporation. The story of its plunge into bankruptcy (co-written with magazine colleague Elkind) barely touches upon the personal flamboyances highlighted in earlier Enron books, focusing instead on the shady finances and the corporate culture that made them possible. Former CEO Jeff Skilling gets much of the blame for hiring people who constantly played by their own rules, creating a "deeply dysfunctional workplace" where "financial deception became almost inevitable," but specific accountability for the underhanded transactions is passed on to others, primarily chief financial officer Andrew Fastow, whose financial conflicts of interest are recounted in exacting detail. (Skilling seems to have cooperated extensively with the authors, though clearly not to universal advantage.) A companywide sense of entitlement, particularly at the top executive levels, comes under close scrutiny, although the extravagant habits of those like Ken Lay, while blatant, are presented without fanfare. The real detail is saved for transactions like the deals that led to the California energy crisis and a 1986 scandal, mirroring the problems faced a decade later, that left the company "less than worthless" until a last-minute rescue. The book's sober financial analysis supplements that of Mimi Swartz's Power Failure, while offering additional perspectives that flesh out the details of the Enron story.
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I chose the above title quote from "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" to highlight my review. The authors provide a biography of many of the Enron players that lets us know what these guys were all about at their core. For example, Jeff Skilling spent almost all his after-school time working at a television station. Yet, he went to college without a dime because he blew all his pay in the stock market-buying stocks on margin. Never mind though because he got an impressive academic scholarship anyway because of his "brilliance." The authors provide other telling stories about the other major players. Ken Lay, the Baptist preacher's boy who preached exemplary corporate values, had an affair with his secretary, and later divorced his first wife to marry her. Yes, this is the same lady who went on television complaining about being broke while her family still owned millions of dollars in real estate. Lay's number two guy-not Skilling-who shacked up with a different Ken Lay secretary at Enron, costing himself annointment as Lay's successor. By the way, this guy now is a billionaire. Having that affair with Lay's secretary, later marrying her, was the smartest thing he ever did because he left Enron to found his own high-flying energy company. Rebecca Mark got a leg up from another Enron mentor by having a tempestous affair with him. The stories like this go on and on.
The authors provide far more detail about company history and the accounting conspiracies that brought it down. As a professional accountant, I am even more convinced now that Arthur Andersen deserved to fail for approving many of the tricks that Enron used to book fictitious profits.
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Format: Hardcover
Excellent journalism and very well articulated research from McLean and Elkind make this a gripping read for anyone who wants to understand the forces that drive corporate greed. Banks, rating agencies, lawyers and accountants are not spared in what is a scathing criticism of profitability over ethics and plain common sense. What disapponted me, however, was the authors' obvious decision to skim over the political elements of the whole scandal. Kenneth Lay was one of the single largest individual contributors to the Bush campaign in 2000 and also made available corporate resources, such as company jets, on numerous occasions. Dick Cheney had secret meetings with company executives at a time that the wheels were beginning to fall off and it is impossible to believe that this was all innocuous, although in the rare instances that the authors refer to such events, they will have you believe that this was the case. Time will hopefully still reveal more about the murky political dealings of Enron, but it is a crying shame that this otherwise very well written book is not a place where you will learn anything at all about that dimension, despite there being no shortage of facts to be found elsewhere in the public domain.
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Format: Hardcover
The authors have done a masterful job of describing the critical mass of complicated personalities that contributed to the Enron meltdown. McLean and Elkind are keenly perceptive about human nature at its worst, and paint colorful portraits of the personalities of Enron's top honchos. The behavior of Enron executives jockeying for position at the expense of their corporation is infuriating.
Ripping off the investors is bad enough, but some of the executives cannibalized their own company with Wall Street's help. Financial engineering may have assisted these people, but their willingness to do it in the first place is a question of character. McLean and Elkind do a masterful job of implying the contributing elements of lack of character. This is a well written and fascinating book. This is not so much a book about finance as it is a book about human behavior in a social crucible where power and high rewards are at stake. This book will become a classic in business school ethics courses and organizational behavior courses.
"Collateralized Debt Obligations and Structured Finance" by Tavakoli will become the textbook of choice for any graduate school developing a course in this subject. It's clever in explaining structured finance including Enron's disguised loans. The author gives reasons why investment banks and sureties who aided Enron had their own failings in how they distributed internal social rewards. It's a structured finance text that warns against and suggests defenses to this kind of behavior and starts out saying that one should expect fraud and be prepared to diffuse it.
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Format: Hardcover
For anyone interested in the Enron scandal and what actually happened, this book is a must read. As noted, McLean and Elkind are excellent journalists who also had the benefit of good editing. Despite the arcane nature of some of the issues, it reads well.
The shortfall: It is difficult to criticize but the book focusses almost exclusively on Enron, the key Enron players and Arthur Andersen. It ignores and glosses over the roles played by "the enablers", the major commercial banks plus several of the investment banks. Also missing from the notorious "enablers" is McKinsey and Co. which worked closely with Skilling (a McKinsey alumnus) to create the framework for the fraud ...did they create the fraud ...no, but they "enabled" the fraud. And yet when one learns that McKinsey people were present and in fact, sat-in on Enron board meetings, one can argue they were as clueless as the board. Let's grade the quality of their work: A+ for intellect; C- for smarts!
In fact, if McLean and Elkind had cast their net a little wider they could have written an even more compelling narrative of Enron and not only what happened, but why it happened. As one finishes the book, in the distance one can still hear the dull whine of the Andersen shredders at work.
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