In the opening pages of his new book, Pipe Dreams: Greed, Ego, and the Death of Enron, Robert Bryce calls an Enron employee a “sphincter.” And not just a sphincter, but a “Texas-sized sphincter.” This should give you some indication of what you’re in for when talking with Robert Bryce. Here, the outspoken journalist and author talks about “the crooked E” and his experiences writing Pipe Dreams.
texasmonthly.com: Many books have been written about Enron. How is yours unique?
Robert Bryce: It may sound like bragging, but my book is the best. It’s not a boring business book. Instead, it explains, in an engaging way, why Enron failed. Pipe Dreams not only shows how Enron corrupted its financial statements with methods like mark-to-market accounting and off-the-balance-sheet financing, it also dishes the dirt on the key miscreants. My book provides detailed profiles of Ken Lay, Jeff Skilling, and Andrew Fastow, as well as people like Lou Pai, the math genius who sold more stock than anyone else ($270 million worth) before leaving Enron; Rebecca Mark, the self-obsessed diva whose bad deals in India and the water business cost Enron $2 billion; and Ken Rice, the good-for-nothing Skilling crony who headed Enron Broadband Services, a division that probably cost Enron another $2 billion or so. Pai, Mark, and Rice have largely been ignored by the other books and by the mainstream media. My book exposes their shenanigans.
texasmonthly.com: Your book is written primarily from an outsider’s perspective. Did you attempt to speak with the higher-ups? Were your sources reluctant to speak with you?
RB: I called the highest-ranking executives. None of them would talk. So I relied heavily on people who worked with them. Many of those people were reluctant to have their names used because they feared retribution. So they gave me information and referred me to other sources. By the time I finished my reporting, I’d talked to more than two hundred people, most of whom were either current or former Enron employees.
texasmonthly.com: While collecting your research, what were you most surprised to learn?
RB: I was surprised at two things. First, I was intrigued that Enron’s roots extend all the way back to the gusher at Spindletop discovered in 1901. The founders of what became Houston Natural Gas started searching for oil right after Spindletop. They found a little oil, but it was a gas strike that led them to create HNG, which became Enron.
My second surprise was the unsurpassed greed of some of the Enron executives. The most offensive example came from Lou Pai, who owns a huge ranch in southern Colorado. He often used an Enron jet to visit his property. And Pai was such a big shot