There seems to be a disconnect. The Jeff Skilling who is sitting in prison is the real Jeff Skilling. But the Jeff Skilling that they sent to prison is NOT the real Jeff Skilling. The flesh and blood man is not the “Jeff Skilling” you hear about on the news, the shorthand for “Enron”, “fraud”, “conspiracy”, “bankruptcy”. The word – Jeffskilling – is an artificial construct, no more real than the pretty girl the magician cuts in half with a saw.
The real Jeff Skilling proved a thousand times that he didn’t really care about money. When he had the opportunity to take a fortune from Enron, he didn’t. He left $50 million on the table because he wanted to set a good example for the leadership of the company. When Enron owed him $2 million to pay off a personal loan, he left that money too, and paid back the loan with his own money. When employees needed medical services that were not covered by the insurance Enron provided, he paid for them with his own money. When a new mother forgot to file her insurance claim in time, Jeff saw to it that the deadline for filing the forms was extended, reasoning that new mothers are busy with their babies and it seemed an unfair burden to have such a short deadline to file – which would increase the financial responsibility of Enron.
The real Jeff Skilling loved Enron. It was Jeff Skilling who begged new Enron president Greg Whalley to bring him back when the company faltered. It was the real Jeff Skilling who, with Cliff Baxter and a few others, tried desperately to pool their own money to help the company when it was collapsing. It was the real Jeff Skilling who spoiled Enron employees, believing that there were opportunities to be frugal, but one shouldn’t be miserly to the people working for you.
The real Jeff Skilling is brilliant and funny and sweet. The real Jeff Skilling loves to eat at Arby’s. The real Jeff Skilling likes jokes. The real Jeff Skilling doesn’t use his intelligence as a weapon, but as a tool. And he would never use it as a blunt instrument to commit horrible crimes.
The real Jeff Skilling is a guy you’d be lucky to call your friend. The thing the jury convicted is not Jeff Skilling; that was just an idea. It wasn’t true, and it was not real. It was like convicting the boogey man. It was just nonsense.
But the real Jeff Skilling is still alive. The real Jeff Skilling still exists, and it’s still possible to save him.