They stand together against the world: the poster boys of corporate malfeasance, the yin-and-yang former CEOs of Enron finally coming to trial in a drab federal courtroom in downtown Houston. But in truth, Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling never much cared for one another. The charming Lay wasn’t comfortable with Skilling’s sharp edges; the brainy Skilling considered Lay a lightweight glad-hander.
And each has, at various points, sought to cast some measure of blame on the other for the 2001 bankruptcy of what was once the seventh-largest company in America — an implosion that wiped out 4,500 jobs and $70 billion of investors’ money while Lay, Skilling, and other top executives walked away with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Since that time, a SWAT team of prosecutors, FBI agents, and other experts have been trying to answer the question, Whose fault was it? So far they have charged 34 defendants and obtained 16 guilty pleas — including those from several key former Enron executives. But all that was prelude to the trial of Lay, 63, and Skilling, 52, which is set to begin on Jan. 30. The two men who were never friends are now locked together in deep mutual need — if convicted, the pair, once widely acclaimed as visionaries, could spend the rest of their lives behind bars.