Lay of the Land

Houston headed toward hard times: sports flops, floods and transit duds. If only city fathers could find a proven leader, an energy executive with a KEN-do attitude.

"As for pumps, why not just install steel doors to protect against space aliens? If we at Enron worried about every possible risk that might one day befall us, our stock would be nowhere near what it is now. We need vision, ladies and gentlemen -- Enron Vision. My executives have lived in Houston for many years, and they tell me that in all the homes they've lived in they've never had a basement flood, and I'm sure that involves plenty of basements.

"So get that stuff down in the basement now. Let's see who can follow my orders best and get their most valuable stuff in the basement first -- you or the Houston Symphony.

"Keep dry (ha ha),

"Ken Lay"

His flood-prevention philosophies were soon put to the test with the arrival of Tropical Storm Allison, which dumped untold amounts of rain on Houston.

Lay's plans were completely, utterly successful. Not one member of Lay's inner circle at Enron suffered any flood damage whatsoever. Others reportedly endured some minor inconveniences, but Lay was too busy moving on to his next project to waste time mollycoddling some grumblers.

And what could be more important to Houstonians than sports? (At least those Houstonians who stayed dry during Allison.)

Lay immediately set up a task force of his top executives to put the Enron stamp on the city's sundry sports teams.

The University of Houston's football team, for instance.

The Coogs had slipped far from their glory days, such as they were, and the Enron guys went to work. Some analysts later claimed that UH went 0-11 in the 2001 season, suffering their first winless campaign ever, but according to Enron's accounting methods the team just missed out on a BCS bowl bid. And if some negativity-obsessed carpers wanted to say the official report documenting the so-called proof of the Cougars' success was "as easy to understand as an Esperanto translation of Finnegans Wake, or even an Enron financial report," then they could join the rest of the "can't do" crowd being pulled on Phil Gramm's wagon.

When it came to basketball, Lay and his boys were equally adept. They quickly got rid of Rockets center Hakeem Olajuwon, freeing up money to pay even more to people like Kelvin Cato and Matt Maloney.

Maloney had long since left the Rockets, but Lay -- citing an Enron philosophy of Throwing Good Money After Good Money (as Defined by Our Financial Statements) -- felt a couple more million thrown his way would provide the key to turning his career around. Likewise, Lay declared that Cato was "grossly underpaid" by Rockets management.

"Here you've got a center who can be counted on to give you not only up to five points a game but almost five rebounds a game -- and we're talking night after night; this isn't a case of some flashy star who comes in and pads his stats by getting seven points and seven rebounds against cellar-dwellers and then disappearing the rest of the time," Lay said. "You mean to tell me you only give that guy a six-year, $42 million contract? That's Dynegy thinking, not Enron Thinking. We here at Enron feel Kelvin Cato is a growth industry. We're trading futures on Kelvin Cato, and we're making a bundle."

The "bundle" was, as of the close of fiscal 2001, still in the "projected" stage, but such projected profits are money in the bank to visionary guys like Lay, if not quite to not-so-visionary folks like his employees with their 401(k) plans.

Lay also made quick work of the Houston Comets, the only team to ever win the WNBA championship. Given the popularity of the WNBA, it's impossible to find out what happened during the 2001 season, but we're sure the Comets went on to win their fifth straight title behind the leadership of Cynthia Cooper.

In baseball, Lay's job was easier. As he took over his duties in June, the Astros had rebounded from their disastrous 2000 season and were looking good in the National League Central. "Larry Dierker is a baseball genius. End of discussion," Lay said. "And the only way to ensure that this team gives Houston the success it deserves is by operating under a self-imposed salary cap. That Drayton McLane, I'm telling you -- he could work at Enron. We especially like his bookkeeping. Even if he gets creative seeking to declare financial losses while we do it to declare profits, what you people have to understand is this: It's the journey, not the destination."

Given that Lay's changes at the Astros were subtler than his actions elsewhere, it took a while for them to sink in. But by the middle of September, the Enron philosophy finally had begun to take hold, with noticeable results.

And the effects were felt not merely on the field: Lay also began supervising the rejuvenation of the Enron Field area.

Even two years after the stadium was opened, the promised rejuvenation had been pretty much limited to one sports bar. Lay quickly took matters into his own hands. When Trammell Crow announced that their landmark Ballpark Place development would be…ummm…delayed once again (but only delayed, they swore. Really, they said), Lay ordered up an entirely new "Coming Soon!" sticker for the property's sign. Houstonians flocked to see the new sticker, and several purchased a beer at the one sports bar because, according to one, "there's not a helluva lot else to do around this neighborhood."

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