There has been much written about the life and death of Ken Lay since he passed away earlier this week. I have long made it a point not to sit in judgment of others as it is very difficult to properly connect the dots from afar. It is my belief that there are indeed at least two sides to every story and that what often times appears in the media as hard news can actually be editorial commentary that may or may not portray the reality of a given situation. Furthermore, just knowing someone who knows someone will rarely even provide you with accurate information relating to the actual events of a situation especially one veiled in controversy.
Regardless of how you feel about Mr. Lay I was truly disheartened at many of the things that I read relating to the death. He was after all more than a businessman…he was a human being who was a husband, father, grandfather, church member and was active in his community. I always find it tragic when people’s lives are reduced to gossip and innuendo. Humans are imperfect creatures and I have yet to come across any business leader who can’t rattle off several decisions that they wish they hadn’t made. It just so happens that some mistakes are more public than others and for most people it is much easier to point the finger at those who have been in the spotlight rather than to deal with their own private indiscretions.
OK, I’ll step down from my soap box now and provide you with the perspective of others. I’ve read several different pieces written about Mr. Lay over the past few days, but I believe the following three individuals cover the topic at hand from every angle. While the comments below specifically address the life of Ken Lay, I would encourage you to take a step back and read the following commentary with the bigger picture in mind…As you read the following comments think about your perspective on people as well as about how you choose to view life in general:
Comment #1, obviously written by a critic of Mr. Lay:
“Lay had recently been convicted of a plethora of felonies, and was staring at the realization that he would most likely be spending the rest of his life in jail. Obviously, this news makes that scenario moot, and I’m sure that there are numerous lawyers, jurors, and reporters who feel like they just wasted a good chunk of their lives during the recent trials. The mainstream media seems to be flirting with turning Kenny-Boy into a martyr, almost portraying him as the victim of a stressful trial and prosecution. I believe this to be total crap. Whether Lay knew about every single corrupt practice at Enron or not, and I believe that he did, his company screwed over a ton of people, and as the head of the corporation the blame must fall on his shoulders. His rise from very poor beginnings in my home state, graduating from my alma mater, and eventually becoming the head of a major energy company are certainly commendable and impressive. The downfall of that fraudulent and crooked company, however, was criminal, and Lay deserved everything that he got. It’s a damn shame that he’s dead, because seeing him led away to prison might have given those that were burned by his sham of a company some peace. ”
Comment #2, obviously written by someone who knew and respected Mr. Lay that provides the flip side of opinion #1 above:
“Ken Lay was a deacon at FMC Houston. There he chose to serve the homeless communion each Sunday. There he befriended the poor. There he gave money for food, clothing, and shelter. His gifts were with his heart. People who knew this gentle man would not recognize him by the media’s descriptions. Ken returned to Enron to save the company from problems. He did not know Andy Fastow, the CFO was lying to investors with creative accounting. Why would he come back to a company he founded…and take up and put on the mantle of a conspiracy that outdated him? Ken had a margin call…. an order from the bank to sell his Enron stock, because of declining capital value. That is why he sold the stock. Ken believed in the company, believed what Fastow was telling him.
Please go to Ken Lay info.com and read the court transcripts, and view the meetings in which he is accused of touting Enron stock to investors. In those meetings he is straightforward, honest, and tells the accounting dept. “Vanilla is just fine…”…meaning…as I come back to lead, we need no creative accounting. Please don’t take your view of Ken from newspaper reports and a jury that did not understand finance. ”
Comment #3, this opinion taken from the New York Times and falls somewhere between comments 1 & 2 above:
“Mr. Lay was fairly convicted of his crimes, but he was also a father and grandfather, whose family mourns his passing. He was headed for the penitentiary, but that did not have to be the end for him. He would have had an opportunity to use his personal skills to help other prisoners. And at 64 years, he might have had another shot at that third act after all. Michael Milken has devoted much of his resources to medical research since serving his sentence. What Ken Lay might have done we will never know. Chances are it would have been interesting. ”
Wrongdoing is certainly wrongdoing and good intentions don’t justify deviant behavior. That being said, experience tells me that there is probably some truth in all of the above statements, but the bigger issue is not how we feel about Mr. Lay, but how we treat other individuals in general…during both the best of times and in worst of times. Don’t allow yourself to be a fair weather friend or a gossip…Rather understand that most of us are not privy to the inner thoughts of others and their motivations. We need to keep in mind that all people make mistakes and that mistakes don’t necessarily make you evil they just make you human.
Mike Myatt is the Chief Strategy Officer at N2growth. N2growth is a leading venture growth consultancy providing a unique array of professional services to high growth companies on a venture based business model. The rare combination of branding and corporate identity services, capital formation assistance, market research and business intelligence, sales and product engineering, leadership development and talent management, as well as marketing, advertising and public relations services make N2growth the industry leader in strategic growth consulting. More information about the company can be found at http://www.N2growth.com