Children of Enron

One of Ken Lay's many legacies: the families whose lives were disrupted by the fall

"I feel like they caused this somehow. But they didn't. Of course they didn't," she says. "That mad just kind of gets all mixed together. It's real hard to separate what exactly you're mad at…And it's hurtful, you know, he was deceived by the company. He trusted them."

Bill Peterson passed away Labor Day weekend of 2002. He had moved to a small town in East Texas where family lived, along with his wife, Cathy, who would later write a book, Flashlight Walking, about the fallout of his cancer coupled with the Enron layoffs. Mindee had thought that her parents might move up there one day and grow old together after he retired. She's not the only one for whom Enron altered expectations.

She thinks back to when she was a child, when both of her grandfathers retired from the companies they had worked for their entire lives.

Christopher and Amanda Dinh stand in the shadow of 
their mother's former workplace.
Daniel Kramer
Christopher and Amanda Dinh stand in the shadow of their mother's former workplace.
Chris Boutcher, Enron kid.
Daniel Kramer
Chris Boutcher, Enron kid.

"I always pictured myself one day working for a company for 30 years, you know; as a child this is how I saw my future. You work somewhere for 30 years, whatever, you retire, your retirement's taken care of, everything's cool," she says. "At some level, I thought there was loyalty from the employer to the employee and it's reciprocal. And it's not. It's not."

She can feel, at times, the obsessive-compulsive tendencies creeping into her personality that could fuel a workaholic. Enron forced her to ask the question: What's the point? She says she still believes in giving her employer 100 percent.

"But that's it. You're not going to get my blood; you're not going to get my sweat; you're not going to get my tears. Nothing. I'm gonna get my paycheck and that's what I'm working for. And that's it. And I don't mean to be cold or hard, but I have a life and my job's not it."

Like other children alumni, Enron punctured her trust in work institutions -- she says she's now conditioned to be suspicious of "the guys at the top" and scrutinizes every memo for some kind of deception.

Or as Nicole Pharms says: "I definitely don't put my faith in any companies or anyone, because, you know, I would've never thought something that seems so stable -- I mean, they were doing great, but you just can't put your faith in anyone in the world." She graduated early from Clear Creek High School and attends Houston Community College in the hopes of being a fashion writer one day. She wants to make a living freelancing and avoid the big office. It's a gut reaction to the recent spate of corporate flameouts, but if her game plan is shared by others in Generation E, it just might change the nature of the work force.

Or they'll just have to suck it up and take what they can get, no longer history's unprecedented generation of privilege.

"I just think that people are starting to realize that you can't trust these company bigwigs, and I think there's going to come a time where everybody's going to realize that and there's not going to be any more big corporations," she posits. "Big or small."

Like Nicole, in the wake of corporate cynicism, Mindee Peterson says she's rediscovered something far more valuable: her priorities.

"I work to live, I don't live to work," she writes in an e-mail. "I make it a priority to invest in my friends and family, not the company I work for."

Chris Boutcher is fighting traffic somewhere outside Chicago on his way back to Burlington for the weekend. Chris is 19 now and has graduated from high school. When they arrived back in Wisconsin two and a half years ago, after the Houston fiasco, the house was freezing and they got by on milk and cereal until the moving truck arrived. But their father found a job with his old company pretty soon thereafter. And though they were down to their "last dimes," things eventually got back to normal.

Chris is driving back up to Wisconsin to find out whether he'll be shipping out this summer for Iraq. He joined the marines as a reservist and left school right around graduation. Since finishing boot camp last September and infantry school in November, he's been working for his grandmother's delivery company back in Indiana, the place that he started.

Back in Houston, meanwhile, the first court settlements have begun to trickle out in the wake of the Enron scandal, including a preliminary agreement in May for $69 million to go to employees who lost their pensions. Former bigwigs such as Andrew Fastow and Jeff Skilling also have made recent headlines, with Skilling being indicted on 35 felony counts and Fastow accepting a plea bargain in exchange for ten years of prison time. And on July 7, Ken Lay himself, the top executive to face criminal charges to date, was indicted on 11 counts of lying to employees, banks and credit agencies and conspiracy to commit fraud.

Interestingly enough, the Enron whirlwind hasn't turned the Boutcher boys off to a corporate career. Aaron wanted to work at Enron before things got bad, and it's probably the reason he wants to study business in college next year.

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