HOUSTON -- Two words sum up the management philosophy of the
Corp., according to its president, Jeffrey K. Skilling: loose, and
"We are loose on everything related to creativity," said
who came here in 1990 to help transform Enron from a regulated
natural gas pipeline company into the energy industry's most
"We like to have smart people try new things," said Skilling, 45.
While other energy companies collect engineers, Enron has hired
hundreds of MBAs in recent years from top universities -- about 150
this year alone -- and even the occasional liberal-arts major just
out of college. "We stick them in the organization and tell them to
figure something out," he said.
So where does "tight" figure in? With intense controls, imposed
whenever Enron signs a long-term contract to deliver a commodity,
like gas -- a $600 million computer system tracks the company's
financial exposures -- or when it comes time to evaluate those smart
"Risk-taking, anytime, is managed centrally," Skilling explained.
In less than a decade, lassoing loose and tight into a single
strategy, Enron has emerged from its unlikely perch in the utility
industry as a model for the new American workplace -- every bit as
much as the Silicon Valley start-ups that usually come to mind when
the subject is entrepreneurship or innovation.
In the process, the company has opened huge new profit centers: by
building power plants and pipelines in Asia, Europe, Latin America
and the United States; trading natural gas and electricity in
wholesale markets at home and overseas, and applying its financial
expertise to create hedging instruments for the energy industry and
other commodity businesses.
Its stock, meanwhile, has sharply outperformed the Standard &
Poor's 500 through the `90s -- a time when its old peers in the gas
business have badly lagged behind the market.
New management approaches abound: Walls have fallen within its 57-
story headquarters tower, the better to promote cross-pollinating
conversations. Through internships and mentor programs, seasoned
executives help even the lowest-ranking new employees find an
interest -- and then challenge them to start a new business for the
Skilling says he does not care how people dress when they come to
work, or whether expense accounts are filed on time. Or even if,
after an all-out effort, a venture fails -- like Enron's heavily
publicized push two years ago to become the nation's leading retail
marketer of electricity, as states like California opened the power
business to competition.
The executive who led that effort is now in charge of spending
perhaps eight times as much to sell long-term power contracts to big
"If you try new things," Skilling said, "some will work, some
What is it like to work in such an environment? To hear Enron
employees tell their stories, it's a tightrope walk -- exhilarating,
if sometimes scary.
Two hours with David W. Cox is as exhausting as a full day with
someone else. Nearly 6 feet tall, Cox, 36, is a blur of motion on a
45th-story trading floor, where he oversees a staff of 30 as a vice
Their business is one that Cox invented: writing swaps contracts
that allow big consumers like newspaper publishers to hedge against
fluctuations in the price of paper. …