HOUSTON, Texas — Enron’s energy empire crumbled exactly 20 years ago in gleaming downtown towers that now house Chevron.
"It does not seem like two decades ago,” said former Enron VP Sherron Watkins.
Watkins had a fancy office on the 49th floor.
"And I am, for better or worse, known as the Enron whistleblower.”
In August of 2001, Watkins alerted Enron founder Ken Lay, first in an anonymous letter, of shady accounting practices and the threat of an impending “implosion."
By December 2, plummeting stock prices, anxious investors and some publicity resulted in bankruptcy.
“December 2, we’re three weeks away from Christmas, everyone’s usually in a great mood, you’re about to get maybe a Christmas bonus, spend time with family, holiday music is playing," said Watkins. "And 5,000 people get dumped on the street with nothing.”
Thousands more lost their jobs when an accounting firm collapsed as a result of the scandal. Disgraced Enron's name was famously removed from what is now Minute Maid Park.
"It’s amazing how much Enron is still the byword for mega corporate scandal,” said Watkins.
Watkins was one of three whistleblowers named as Time magazine’s persons of the year in 2002.
She testified before Congress and during the trials of fellow Enron officials, including Ken Lay. But he died before his sentencing for a fraud conviction at age 64.
"In the scheme of life, I think Ken Lay passed away a broken man having failed at being a successful businessman," said Watkins. "Running Enron into the ground and then facing prison time. I think white collar crime was pursued and justice was served."
Watkins still visits Houston on occasion but now works as, among other things, a Texas State University professor.
She teaches business ethics.