Tuesday, October 23, 2001.
The stock opened at $23.25, its high for the day.
Ken Lay convened a conference call with analysts to try and keep them apprised of what was happening ( Call transcript here ). The room at the Enron building was packed; Ron Astin, a V&E attorney, was present, as were Richard Causey, Ben Glisan, Greg Whalley, Mark Palmer, Andy Fastow. Tension zinged through the room. The only thing Whalley could say was that an SEC investigation had begun but he could give no other details, which was the only thing that the world wanted to know. Causey was uncomfortable; Fastow was angry.
Most of the analysts were polite, until Richard Grubman took the line. Only a few months earlier, Jeff Skilling had called the Highfields Capital short seller an asshole ( transcript here). Grubman asked a question about Azurix, saying that the water company would require a billion dollars of support from Enron, and had Enron taken reserves against that liability?
Causey answered that Azurix was well-positioned to handle all of its obligations. Grubman persisted, stating that the value just wasn’t there.
Ken Lay stepped in. “Richard… I know you want to drive the stock price down. And you’ve done a good job of doing that, but let’s move on to the next question.”
Lay and Grubman tangled for a few more moments.
Listening from home, Jeff Skilling must have been smugly satisfied. That guy was a pill, and it was difficult for even consummately professional Lay to gracefully handle him.
David Duncan had been watching the stock price during the conversation. It was chugging downward with every second.
An analyst from Goldman Sachs finally got to the question everyone wanted answered – whether there was more to come in terms of LJM. Ken Lay said that he couldn’t say much about LJM because of the SEC investigation.
Skilling thought this was exactly the wrong answer. This was what people wanted to know – the one question that had the potential to turn around the stock price and people’s perception of Enron, and Lay refused to answer it.
That was when Skilling called Enron. Lay was still on the call, but Skilling asked his secretary to have him call back asap.
When the call ended, the general feeling in the room was that they’d just created another disaster. A huge, ugly, nasty disaster.
Shutting off the webcast in his office, David Duncan reiterated the document policy and told his team to get in compliance with it.
When he was finished with the analyst call, Ken Lay called Skilling. Skilling asked to be brought back to Enron. He believed it would send a good signal to the street and help tourniquet the blood loss the company was experiencing. Ken Lay said he’d think about it.
A little while later, Ken Lay headed to the Imperial Ballroom of the Hyatt for an all-employee meeting ( Transcript here). The employees were worried about the stock price; many were angry. Ken Lay was calm and affable, as always, and assured them that the stock was way undervalued.
The employees had been asked to provide questions anonymously to Mr. Lay. Most of them were concerns about the stock price and what the company’s strategy would be going forward. Then he picked up a question written on a card and said, “A lot of these I think I’m going to have to handle, like this one.” He read: “I would like to know if you are on crack.”
The crowd laughed.
“If so,” he continued, “that would explain a lot. If not, you may want to start because it is going to be a long time before we can trust you again.”
The crowd laughed again. Even under attack, Dr. Lay looked relaxed and appeared to be enjoying himself, though we know that could not possibly be happening.
“I think that’s not a very happy employee,” Lay said. “I’m sure a lot of you have some hatred.” He paused. “No, I’m not on crack.”
The decision of the board to ask Andy Fastow how much he had earned with the LJM structures had been made last week. Today John Duncan and Mickey LaMaistre would ask. Jim Derrick, the firm’s general counsel, had composed a script (script here) to make sure they asked the right questions.
LaMaistre, who was in Colorado at the time, looked down at the script and began to read it.
“Andy, because of the current controversy surrounding LJM1 and LJM2, we believe it would be helpful for the board to have a general understanding of the amount of your investment and your return on investment in the LJM entities.” He asked four specific questions, which allowed for no wiggle room.
Fastow answered that he made twenty-three million on LJM1 and twenty-two million on LJM2. The actual number would be about fifteen million dollars higher — over sixty million dollars all told.
In Global Finance, two very bad things were happening. The first was that Enron’s short term loans in the commercial paper market weren’t rolling over. The second was that Ben Glisan was attempting to get some credit from bankers, to no avail. No bank wanted to do business with Enron as long as Fastow was still CFO. Thus Ben Glisan was put in the uncomfortable position of having to tell his boss that he was the corporate equivalent of anthrax.
Pug Winokur, a board member, and president Greg Whalley were at that moment fighting over whether Andy Fastow would stay as CFO. The board – and Pug – adored Andy. Whalley believed Fastow was poison.
Fastow and Glisan convened the finance team – including Rick Causey – trying to find a way out of the morass of problems that had been dumped on their laps. Whalley suggested they call Jeff McMahon.
McMahon and Glisan were not on good terms. Just three days earlier McMahon had tried to fire Glisan. But the Boy Scout had survived. So when Glisan told him that the company was unable to roll commercial paper, McMahon could only roll his eyes. Obviously Glisan was too stupid to even know the words he was using.
“Ben, obviously you didn’t mean you couldn’t roll it,” McMahon said. Probably what had happened was that he couldn’t issue as much as the company would like, which was not a surprise in this market.
Then Andy’s voice came on the line. “No, Jeff. Ben is right. We were unable to find any buyers for our commercial paper.”
McMahon was stunned. And sickened. Through the astonishment of the situation, only one solution presented itself. It was time to draw down the revolving credit lines that backed the commercial paper.
Getting off the phone with Glisan, Causey and Fastow, McMahon then called Whalley. “We have a major liquidity crisis,” he said.
The stock closed at $19.79, a loss of 4 percent of its value.