Consumed by Greed
UGS 302: Business and Ethics
November 23, 2010
Over 50 years ago, the situational comedy, Leave it to Beaver, first aired in homes all across America. As entertaining as it was insightful, the series soon won the hearts and minds of millions across the nation. Many of the characters from this hit series remain pop culture icons to this day. Of these, there is possibly no greater remembered character than Edward Clark "Eddie" Haskell. Ask anyone from the baby boomer generation and they are sure to smile when you mention Eddie Haskell. As cunning as he was sinister, Eddie has in many ways become "a cultural reference, recognized as an archetype for insincere sycophants." Eddie was notorious for being exuberantly polite around parents and exceedingly mischievous when they were gone. This pattern of acting one way to charm parents and then acting another when only his friends were around is reminiscent of many "two-faced" individuals we may see every day. In fact, history is plagued with individuals who have used their charm to win the trust and support of others while carrying out unthinkable acts under their noses. Through his incredibly charismatic personality and quick smile, Ken Lay was able to deceive and manipulate the world into accepting Enron as the $80 billion company he made it out to be. Through his cunning, yet deceptive actions, this 21st century Eddie Haskell was able to pull off the greatest act of corporate fraud the world has ever seen.
While the story of how the once 7th largest American corporation exploded over 15 years and imploded in less than one is complex, so is the story of how Ken Lay came to be the sinister captain of this corporate titanic. In fact, to understand either story, one must understand both. However, whereas the story of Enron has a distinct beginning and end with concrete evidence and facts, the story of Ken Lay is quite ambiguous. While many found Ken Lay to be utterly despicable, those who were close to him would go on to say he was a "straight arrow - a Boy Scout, if you will - who lived by Christian-Judeo principles." How could this be? How could a man of such principles oversee the most unethical business in the United States? The simplest answer would be greed. The story of Ken Lay is the story of how greed can ruin even the most decent of men.
While Ken Lay may have been largely consumed by his greed, he most likely did not learn this behavior from his parents. Kenneth Lee "Ken" Lay was born on April 15, 1942 in Tyrone, Missouri, the second of three children of Omer and Ruth Lay. His father, Omer, began his career as a businessman selling tractors, tools, and chickens. However, a series of unfortunate events would cause Omer to file for bankruptcy when Lay was only six years old. Strapped for cash, Omer would turn to the church as he became a Baptist minister to provide for his family. Lay would help supplement the family's measly income by delivering papers, cutting grass, and bailing hay. All of this would undoubtedly instill the value of a dollar and the importance of work ethic in Lay from an early age. At the same time, it would also serve to ignite a deep desire to succeed.