Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room


Directed by: Alex Gibney
Released: October 13, 2005
Grade: A-

If you’ve read by reviews of The Corporation, Bowling For Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11, it should come as no surprise that I liked this documentary.  There is an incredible amount of corporate corruption in this world and Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room helps get this message out to an unknowing public.  There were audience members gasping at my screening which says enough about how surprising some of this material is.

Started 20 years ago, Enron grew into one of the largest corporations in America.  It operated power plants and natural gas pipelines and considered itself the world’s leading energy innovators.  At the top of the corporate ladder was Ken Lay, the Chairman and Jeffrey Skilling, the CEO.  There were over 30,000 employees an Enron but the finger is firmly pointed at these two individuals in this film.

The most amazing thing I took away from the documentary is how easily a culture of dishonesty and fraud can spread.  The Board at Enron was only interested in their share price and would do anything to ensure it stayed above expectations.  Their influence spread well outside the firm itself.  Almost all stock analysts had “buy” recommendations, glowing articles were printed in newspapers and business magazines and the government helped it secure huge business deals.

Incredibly though, the company wasn’t making any money.  The only reason the company was showing a profit was because billions in fictitious future profits were being booked.  As it continue to chew up its cash resources, cracks started to appear and in late 2001, things had spiralled beyond the point of repair.  The company filed for bankruptcy, all employees lost their jobs, many employees lost their retirement benefits and all shareholders were left with nothing.

Despite the collapse, top executives, including Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skilling, managed to profit from the sale of millions of dollars worth of shares.  Others received huge bonuses for jobs which brought huge losses to the company.  This truly was the greatest fraud in the history of corporate America.

I thought there was an overuse of metaphors and some of the footage and language used was a bit clichéd but the message gets through and that’s what seeing this film is all about.  What is says about power and greed cannot be disputed.  I work as an accountant myself and the effects that Enron collapse has had on the business world have been very significant.  It results in the closure of America’s oldest accountant firm, Arthur Anderson, who acted as Enron’s auditors.

With some great interviews and a wealth of archival video footage, Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room is compelling, fascinating and startling.  It’ll leave you with plenty to talk about.