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Water conferences are usually boring affairs. Filled with too many middle-aged men whose fashion sense favors the timeless pocket-protector-and-a-tweed-jacket look, the conferences attract few dynamic personalities and even fewer women. But the water wonks who went to New York City in mid-1999 knew to expect something different. Not only would the meeting be held at the World Trade Center, but Rebecca Mark was going to give a speech.
Most of the attendees had never seen Mark. But they had heard of her, and they knew enough to expect a show. They weren't disappointed.
According to attendees, Mark arrived, as was her custom, via limousine. And although the weather in New York was warm, Mark swept into the meeting room wearing a dark floor-length fur. "It looked like it cost a ton of money. I don't know what kind it was, maybe Russian sable. It was gorgeous," said one attendee. As she walked to the front of the meeting room, she was trailed by an aide, a matronly, decidedly unfashionable woman, who appeared to be in her late fifties or early sixties. Mark bore straight ahead, looking neither right nor left. Her strutting manner made it clear that she was going to show these tweedy know-nothings that Enron was in the water business to stay. Soon, the utility geeks would know that Enron's new company, Azurix, was a force to be reckoned with, a company that would change the water business forever.
As Mark approached the stage, she reached up to unhook the fur, which she had been wearing capelike, over her shoulders. Just as she reached the stage, with nary a look back, Mark sent the fur flying off her shoulders. The fur hung in the air just long enough to be caught by her faithful Sancha Panza, who folded it in her arms and scurried to the sidelines. Mark then vaulted up the stairs to give her speech.
Mark proceeded to tell the conference how Azurix was going to use Enron's expertise and money to kick their butts in the water business. Never mind that Azurix was a newcomer. Azurix had the secret sauce. After finishing her speech, she was far too busy to hang around and listen to the talk about mundane things like reverse osmosis and turbidity. So she hit the door, a fact that left many industry members seething. "We were absolutely determined to bury her because when she'd speak at these conferences, she took the air of the definitive voice in the business," said Dick Heckmann. This founder and former CEO of U.S. Filter (now part of French conglomerate Vivendi) was at the World Trade Center that day in 1999. "She'd say things like, 'This is a new day in the water business. Enron is bringing its trading abilities to the water business to bring it out of biblical times.' "
"Then," Heckmann said, "when I got up to talk, she'd leave. She'd come in just in time to give her speech and then leave immediately. It just pissed me off."
But then, Rebecca Mark never worried about pissing people off. Her only concerns were making money and promoting herself -- in that order. And yet, as the Enron scandal continues to unfold, Mark has managed to remain nearly invisible. Except for a profile in The Washington Post and passing mentions in a few other publications, Mark's name is rarely uttered in the list of Enron's main miscreants. Her disappearing act is even more remarkable given the size and scope of the failed businesses she launched in the water and electric power business.
Rebecca Mark is a size-six bottle blond with high cheekbones, extra-straight, extra-big, extra-white teeth, enormous brown eyes and always perfect makeup. She favors gold jewelry and has more fancy clothes than an upscale shopping mall. Whereas other female executives tend toward navy blue, gray flannel and conservative pumps, she prefers the very upscale yet slightly trampy look. Her brightly colored outfits are from the likes of Armani and Escada, usually including miniskirts and a pair of come-hither stiletto heels.
Throughout the 1990s Mark was Enron's rock star. And just like Britney Spears, everyone familiar with the company had an opinion about her.
Women are particularly scathing. Perhaps they're jealous of Mark's money, success and good looks. Envious or not, they're clearly angry about what they consider Mark's unflinching use of her sexuality to get to the top. One prominent (female) stock analyst said of Mark, "She got to the top on her back."
An important former (male) executive at Enron said admiringly of Mark, "She's as good with her sexuality around men as anyone I've ever seen. She knows how to flaunt it. She just knew how to use her intelligence and sexuality to her advantage." Indeed, much of Mark's self-promotion depended on not her brains but her butt. "I don't mind being remembered as, 'Oh, that's that beautiful woman I talked to,' " she told Forbes magazine in 1998.
Opinions aside, there are a few facts about Mark that cannot be disputed: She could sell ice to Eskimos; she's pretty enough to be a model; she's talented, speaks excellent Spanish, is a Harvard MBA, has a wealth of knowledge about the energy business and owns a Rolodex filled with the names of important government officials in dozens of foreign countries. And she's unlikely to ever have another significant job in corporate America.