Ken Lay rose from humble beginnings on a Missouri
farm, the son of a Baptist minister. Neither of his parents had attended college, but they had high aspirations for their children. They even moved to Columbia, MO so their kids could live at home and still attend the University of Missouri.
Ken spent hours on the family tractor dreaming of being a captain of industry. After college graduation, with a degree in economics, he was all set to start making money, but a college professor convinced him to stick around for another year and earn his Masters Degree.
In 1965, with his Masters in his pocket, Ken went to work as a senior economist for Houston-based Humble Oil, later to become Exxon. Expecting to be drafted during the Vietnam War, he enlisted in the Navy. Though he entered as a lowly supply officer, he soon found himself in the Pentagon running economic studies and hobnobbing with Admirals and Generals. He was smart, ambitious, and a natural born leader.
After his stint in the military, Lay expected to return to private sector work, but Richard Nixon appointed one of Ken's college professors, Pinkney Walker, to the Federal Power Commission - now the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission - and Walker wanted Ken as his executive assistant. Once again Ken Lay stood out. Says the now retired Walker, "In a sense, he was the power commissioner."
Ken Lay had done his momma and poppa proud. With his unflinching beliefs in the power of free markets and capitalism he had become a somebody, a player. A man to whom even Presidents would listen. He was not yet 30-years old. The best was yet to come.
Leaving the government in 1973 Ken returned to the oil industry, as a vice president at Florida Gas. In 1981 it was on to Houston and Transco. Ready to run the show himself, he finally got his opportunity in 1984 with Houston Natural Gas, where he was brought in as CEO.
Houston Natural Gas is where the fun really started. Ken was in charge. Within a few months he merged with his biggest competitor, InterNorth. The new company needed a new name. It became ENRON.
Within a few years Ken Lay had a company that was the new new thing. ENRON became the darling of Wall Street, the toast of Texas, Houston's shining jewel. Four straight years Forbes Magazine picked them as the most innovative company in the country. Ken's personal fortune was in the hundreds of millions and he was a close friend and advisor to the governor of Texas and soon to be President, George W. Bush.
By the late 1990's, secure in his personal fortune, with ENRON listed as the 7th largest company in the USA, Ken Lay started to shift the reins of power at ENRON to the next generation. He was seriously thinking about going into public service. There were rumors afloat he might run for mayor of Houston. It had been a long and fruitful journey from that farm in Missouri.
Sure he'd made a few enemies along the way, but mostly they were disgruntled employees or envious competitors. He gladly gave not just his money, but his time to countless charities and civic groups. He was wealthy beyond belief, but didn't flaunt it. Even in August of 2001, as ENRON's stock was faltering, employees spontaneously gave him a standing ovation when he announced he was returning as CEO - discarding his hand-picked successor.
Kenny boy, we hardly knew ye....
Less than six months later he was the poster boy for corporate greed. ENRON became the largest bankruptcy in American history. The tangled web of acounting tricks, deception, political influence and fraud is sending reverberations down both Wall Street and Capitol Hill. The Vice President is being sued by another branch of government, the President is trying to pretend he doesn't know who you are, and politicians across the country are donating the campaign contributions you gave them to relief funds for swindled employees.
The only thing on Ken Lay's schedule these days are class-action lawsuits and investigating committees. Ken, you've almost replaced Osama Bin Laden as the person we most love to hate. You spent 30 years building a reputation, an energy empire, becoming an advisor to Presidents - and then you forgot and began smoking your own dope. Believing your own hype. Everything you worked for is gone.
You fucked up a wet dream and turned it into a nightmare.