Corporate Advertising & Image – COM 9655 Professor Alison Griffiths By Andrew Ciccone
Enron: The smartest guys in the room evaluated how documentary film shapes our attitudes and behavior of corporate identity.
The company’s image is a reflection of an organization’s identity . . . how each constituency views your organization (Argenti, 2002).
The corporation is part of the jigsaw of society . . . [it has] extraordinarily powerful, it reaches everywhere . . . it transforms the lives of people . . . corporations are artificial creations . . . a monster . . . trying to devour as much profit as possible at anyone’s expense (Abbott & Achbar2004).
A documentary lends itself to a sense of something being more objective “nonfiction” in strong contrast with other mediums such as feature films (Corner, 2002).
“ Documentary” is a category that has been defined and applied in relation to a sense of public values.
Ideals have been framed by a range of authoritarian, liberal, and radical perspectives.
The use of paraphrasing, and other visual techniques can influence our view of events.
The film’s subtly use of satire effectively skewed the audiences’ attitudes of Corporate America, “Enron’s Ride of Broken Dreams” .
Musical undertones emphasized the biased voice-overs, utilizing corporate styling of radical and informed voices to pull apart the history, construction, ethics, even the very legal basis of the corporation.
Dramatically posed interviews are interwoven into this documentaries in streams of elegantly edited imagery.
At the center of the Enron case are
three senior executives:
Kenneth Lay, CEO and founder;
Jeffery Skilling, Enron president and heir apparent;
and Andrew Fastow, chief financial officer (CFO).
Ken Lay, the son of a Baptist minister, was the force behind the initial transformation of a small, Houston-based pipeline company into an energy-trading giant.
Much of Lay’s success is attributable to state and federal legislation deregulating the energy industry (Fox, 2003).
Enron had developed a “culture of self-conscious greed and reward”, risk taking had become the dominant value in the company.
As acting CEO, Skilling espoused a Darwinian corporate philosophy and a performance review standard that resulted in a 15% annual turnover.
Skilling planned and took trips where people could actually die, motocross, wild adventures – “ the trips were legend”.
Lay’s broad vision of the bureaucratic energy industry was revolutionary and included more free-market commodity trading of natural gas and electricity.
The market price of Enron’s stock was everywhere, even in the elevator, everyone was consumed with it.
They were so good, they convinced the investment community that they were “new”, “different”, and “innovative”.
Enron maximized the flow of energy to states
with power needs from areas with an oversupply
of power that we may eventually see in the future.
In 1987 rogue traders, Louis Borget and Thomas Mastroeni, almost bankrupted the company through a trading subsidiary called Valhalla.
Lay, called a meeting explaining the situation to Enron employees, ‘I promise you, we will never again risk Enron’s credibility in business ventures’ It was a commitment he would fail to keep. (Eichenwald 2005, 39).
From the moment Key Lay decided to ignore out right deception and fraud is when the corporate identity of Enron was forever shaped.
Instead of firing the traders who had recklessly made poor judgments the response from Ken Lay’s office was, “Please keep making us millions”.
The Enron traders totally rape California, . . . exploiting every loophole in the State of California.
Most people have a sense of culture, basic beliefs about how people should interact with each other. Such belief systems are a powerful force which shapes our behavior as society, and our business dealings (Fombrun, 1996).
Enron was doing all sorts of questionable things, taking enormous risks . . . and performing terribly.
Leading financial institutions took part in what amounted to synergistic corruption.
Bad debts were hidden in partnerships creating conflicts of interests overseen by CFO Andrew Fastow who was involved in deception as well as conflicts of interest (Bryce, 2002).
This was consistent with a larger pattern of secrecy and outright deception common at Enron (Behr & Witt ,2002a, 2002b).
Johnson (2002) attributed the collapse to a series of fundamental ethical lapses by Enron’s leaders.
These include abuse of power, excessive privilege, deceit, inconsistent treatment of internal and external constituencies, misplaced and broken loyalties, and irresponsible behavior (Johnson 2002, pp. 7-10).
Enron should not viewed as a aberration . . . everyone was on the bandwagon, and it could happen again, (Abbott & Achbar, 2004).
Enron’s management failed in their communication-based responsibility to both larger social values and to their stakeholders.
Shrivastava (1995) points out the necessity of enlarging the scope of company responsibility towards less financial and more nature oriented issues.