The Collapse of Enron: Managerial Aspect

Summary

The downfall of Enron Corporation is one of the most infamous and shocking events in financial world in the whole history of the mankind, and its reverberations were felt on global scale. Prior to its collapse in 2001, Enron was one of the US leading companies and frequently considered among top 10 admired corporations and most desired places to work, and its board was often recognized among the best five US companies in accordance with the Fortune magazine. Its revenues made up US $139($184) billion, assets equaled $62($82) billion, and the number of employees reached more than 30,000 people in 20 countries around the world.

While Enron Corporation was so highly praised by the outside observers, internally it had highly decentralized financial control and decision-making structure, which made it practically impossible to get coherent and clear view on corporations' activities and operations. Of course, the problem was not exclusively due to poor managerial performance, all the departments of the corporation were involved in the ruining corporate ethical values and principles, but executives and managers bear primary responsibility for the absence of corporate culture, clear accountability and transparence of the company. If operations management worked properly, in its full force, and if it was given possibility to work in such a way, there could be a chance of escaping the tragedy.

Enron Corp brief history

Enron Corporation was one of the largest global energy, services and commodities company. Before it was filed bankruptcy under chapter 11, it sold natural gas and electricity, delivered energy and other commodities such as bandwidth internet connection, and provided risk management and financial services to the clients around the world.

Enron was based in Houston, Texas, and was founded in July 1985 (though company with Enron name emerged still in 1930 (Swatz, Watkins, 2003)) by the merger of InterNorth of Omaha in Nebraska, and Houston Natural Gas. Enron Company quickly developed from merely delivering energy to brokering energy futures contracts on deregulated energy markets. In 1994, the company started to sell electricity, and in 1995, it entered European energy market. By the middle 2001, Enron employed about 30,000 people globally (McLEan, Elkind,2003).

Questionable accounting methods and techniques provided Enron with possibility to be listed as seventh largest United States company and was expected to dominate the market which the company virtually invented in the communications, weather and power securities (Bryce, 2002). But instead the corporation became the largest corporate failure in the global history and an example of well-planned and institutionalized corporate fraud. Enron became wealthy due to its pioneering marketing and promotion of power and communications bandwidth services and risk management derivatives, including such innovative and exotic items as weather derivatives.

In 1999, Enron launched an initiative of buying and selling access to high-speed Internet bandwidth, and also Enron Online was launched as a Web-based trading site, making Enron e-commerce company. In 2000, the reported revenues of the company made $101 billion. It had stakes in almost 30,000 miles of gas pipelines, either owned or accessed 15,000 miles of fiber-optic network and had stakes in global operations on generating electricity (Thomas, 2002).

In the result, for five years in a row, from 1996 to 2000, Enron was named "America's most innovative Company" by Fortune magazine, and headed the list of Fortune's "100 best companies to Work for in America" in 2000. Enron reputation was undermined by rumors on bribery and political pressure with the objective of securing contacts in South and Central America, Philippines and Africa. The Enron was blamed to use its connections with Clinton and Bush administrations to express pressure in their contracts. The events were followed by a series of scandals involving irregular accounting methods bordering on fraud which involved Enron and Arthur Andersen accounting firm and led Enron on the verge of undergoing the largest bankruptcy in economic history in November 2001 (Emshwiller, Smith, 2001).

Since Enron was always considered a blue chip stock, the bankruptcy was a disastrous and unprecedented event in the global financial world. Enron's downfall was definite when it was found out that a considerable share of its profits resulted from deals with so-called special-purpose entities, limited partnership under control of Enron. It resulted in the possibility of not reporting many of the company's losses in its financial statements. The final plan of Enron's bankruptcy included creation of three new businesses which would be spun off the company.

The reorganization process started in 2003 with the creation of three companies - CrossCountry Energy, Prisma Energy International, and Portland General Electric. CrossCountry Energy was sold to CCE Holdings L.L.C., with the money to be used for the repayment of the debts, while Prisma Energy International and Portland General Electric should emerge as independent companies descendant of Enron (Swatz, 2003).

Operations management scope of functions

To understand the reasons of this bankruptcy and the level of managerial implication in the quality performance of the company, particularly that of operations management, it is necessary to outline the main functions of operations management and impact it should have of functioning of the organization.

The principal task of operations management is effective transformation of inputs into "desired outputs" of the company (Shafer, 1997). The outputs are traditionally understood in manufacturing and profit-making context within the organizations. But recently it has been recognized that operations management is a discipline which is not limited with such narrow functions; it can be deployed in practically any area where the organization aims at achieving its objectives (Barnett, 1996). For instance, non-profit or public sectors have to learn to optimize their internal operations and processes in the situation of limited resources; service companies come to conclusion that by reappraising their delivery process they can revolutionize and significantly improve their approach to manufacturing companies and their marketplace. Robin Wood (2001) gives the example of such operations management implication in Daewoo company, which understood that it can specialize and differentiate its product by adding definite bundle of benefits to its product which includes additional supporting services. Operations sector is the heart of these changes that are made by leading companies to improve their performance and increase customer base.

The survival of commercial company depends on ability of the organization to focus and shape its operational resources to meet the expectations of its stakeholders: customers, employees and shareholders, expressed in organizational strategy (Russel, 1995) . Irrespective of economic sectors the company operates in, the ability of operations management of this company to fulfill those above-mentioned tasks depends on their understanding that it is necessary to make trade-offs. They cannot avoid the situation of working under constraints and have to understand their capabilities and constraints to provide significant inputs into strategic decision-making process involving further resources of the organization.

Operations managers in the organizations are not empowered to make strategic decisions, but they play important role in shaping the organization's strategy and contribute to the strategic thinking ( Pasternack, Viscio, 1998). Operations managers should be able to translate strategic aims and objectives into clear operational objectives and actions and to implement, design and improve the products of the company themselves and the processes of their delivery. They have to know how changes incorporated to external factors influence the operation and how changes in one aspect of the operating system influence other aspects.

Also, operations managers need to know how technological changes impact organization's capability of delivery, and to incorporate their conclusions into strategic process (Peters, Waterman, 1982). Therefore, the heart of operations thinking includes the ability to think dynamically and systematically across time and space (Miller, 1998). Besides traditional tasks of operation management, new perspectives and objectives emerge connected with the emergence of new trends and developments of operations management, such as total quality management, shop floor control, global supply chain management, manufacturing planning software, and others.

Total quality management has become one of the most important developments of the operations management. The quest for higher level of products and services quality is caused by the globalization of markets, on the one hand, and increasing litigation over service or product failure. The relationship between quality and market share performance is doubtless. Those firms that fail to understand the issue of quality find themselves on the bottom of their industry hierarchy. A significant share of the responsibility for quality standards rests on the operations manager. Global supply chain management is another very important component of operations management. The world economy is becoming more global than ever. Looking for lower production costs, more flexibility and local risk reduction, companies are seeking to outsource and produce services and products on global scale (Heizer, 2004). Operation managers are responsible for fulfilling the task. Project management is yet another task of the operations management department. Operation managers bear responsibility for numerous projects which range from considerable capital projects to specific ones such as installation of new information system. Effectively managing projects involves fulfillment and delivery them in timely manner and within the budget (Stevens, 2001). In a word, operations management is indispensable component of the organization, since it fulfills numerous important functions of the company. Operations manager handles daily running and functioning of the organization.

The implication of poor managerial performance for the collapse of Enron Corporation

Now it is necessary to find out and analyze whether operations management of Enron Corp performed all the functions mentioned above and what was the quality of their activity.

The Enron did have operations management department, which, according to their official source, fulfilled the following functions: setup accounts and notify utilities, agency agreement from customer, verify the format of invoice, setup invoice data transfer, test algorithms of invoice and file transfer to the customer, determine the reporting requirements of the customer (Enron Energy Services, 2000). As it is seen from the source, the functions of very operations management department are very limited. There are other management departments which perform the functions of operations management stated above: operations facility management, commodity management, energy asset management, financial operations, and capital management. Though, most of functions performed by these departments, according to the source, are purely executive and lack integration, systematic vision, responsibility, control and creative aspect. Besides limited scope of functions assigned to operations management in Enron Corporation, another important point concerns the quality of their performance and overall corporate culture and atmosphere created within corporation. As it was mentioned above, ideally, the functions of operations management include creating ethic values, integrity, competence and clear accountability within the organization. Enron's management failed to comply with these tasks.

On the superficial level, the attitudes and motives behind the events and decisions causing eventual downfall seem simple enough: collective and individual greed created in the atmosphere of corporate arrogance (Bryce, 2002). As Enron's reputation in the global environment grew, the internal culture of the organization began to worsen significantly. Skilling, Enron Chief Executive, founded the Performance Review Committee, PRC, which gained the reputation of the harshest employee-ranking system in the whole country. Theoretically, this review system was based on the values of Enron - respect, integrity, communication and excellence (RICE). But at the end of the day, associates came to conclusion that the only real measure of performance was the scope and amount of profits they could produce for the company. To stay in organization and achieve top rating, the employees became motivated to make deals and post earnings (Smith, Emshwiller, 2001). The division of Skilling every year replaced up to 15% of the Enron's workforce. This caused fierce internal competition causing the prevailing immediate short-term results above long-term potential. Thus, the paranoia within the company flourished and a number of highly restrictive confidentiality clauses increased in trade contracts. Therefore, secrecy became a general rule for many of Enron's trading contracts and its disclosures (Eichenwald, 2005). Deals, particularly in the finance division, were done very rapidly without much attention paid to whether they conformed to the organization's strategic goals or whether they complied with the company's risk management rules.

Therefore, it is evident that the problem which led to bankruptcy of Enron doesn't lie exclusively within the framework of accounting practices. On analyzing all internal processes within the company, one can come to conclusion that despite popular belief, accounting issue alone did not devastate Enron, its shareholders and employees. What should be considered as a serious reason for downfall are poor corporate performance management and operations management as well. According to Brewer (2002), expert in operation management, "The world thought it was an accounting issue, but it's just the symptom, not the cause. There was a lack of understanding whether the business model would support itself and they didn't know where their revenue was coming from. And that comes down to performance management." (Brewer, 2002). Corporate performance management covers much broader scope than tracking performance levels of customer service agents. Brewer designates performance management as the activity within the enterprise which provides C-level executives with the ability to get a single picture about the truth across the enterprise and precise picture of the company's financial health. This provides the company with the possibility to be aware of business initiatives and take action on the basis of what is working and what is not within the company.

Thus, it is evident that the collapse of Enron was caused by a list of interrelated reasons, and many of these reasons have a lot to do with poor functioning of operations and performance management. Being seemingly a strong company with powerful management and clear hierarchy, Enron's internal organization contains a lot of shortcomings. Thus, operations management in Enron obviously failed to provide and further advance positive control environment and did not contribute into shaping the company's ethical value, integrity, philosophy of management and strict accountability in the organization. The corporate policies, in formulating and communicating of which Enron operations management participated, were wrong and not compliant with initial values of the company. Strict and harsh hierarchy and performance evaluation system created by Chief Executive Skilling perverted the original values and ethical base of the company - respect, integrity, communication and excellence, and replaced them with the priority of gaining profit irrespective of methods thereof. Employees were motivated to take to different questionable practices and were rewarded for bringing income to the organization. The entire managerial machine participated in this process, and subordinated the functions it had to fulfill to newly-formed philosophy and value of the company.

Conclusion

The downfall of Enron Corporation is one of the most infamous and shocking events in financial world in the whole history of the mankind, and its reverberations were felt on global scale. Prior to its collapse in 2001, Enron was one of the US leading companies and frequently considered among top 10 admired corporations and most desired places to work, and its board was often recognized among the best five US companies in accordance with the Fortune magazine. Its revenues made up US $139($184) billion, assets equaled $62($82) billion, and the number of employees reached more than 30,000 people in 20 countries around the world.

While Enron Corporation was so highly praised by the outside observers, internally it had highly decentralized financial control and decision-making structure, which made it practically impossible to get coherent and clear view on corporations' activities and operations. Of course, the problem was not exclusively due to poor managerial performance, all the departments of the corporation were involved in the ruining corporate ethical values and principles, but executives and managers bear primary responsibility for the absence of corporate culture, clear accountability and transparence of the company. If the company's management worked properly, in its full force, and if it was given possibility to work in such a way, there could be a chance of escaping the tragedy.

Sample subject:
Business
Sample type:
Research paper

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