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Kenneth Lay Goes the Way of Enron, CEO's Be Warned

Kenneth Lay, was he a victim of greed, or is he a villain responsible for the financial ruin of an entire town?       I know, I know. In the past the phrase was "has gone the way of all the Earth." But in this case I think the adaptation is more than fitting.

First, let me wish my condolences to the Lay family for the recent passing of Mr. Lay.

Now that's out of the way let's move on to what this shows - no matter how much wealth you amass in this life (whether by legitimate means or by other means) the fact remains that your wealth remains, as do your human remains, on this Earth when you die. That is a lesson that all executives, and all humans alike should learn.

Some people might look at Mr. Lay's death as the final evasion of responsibility for his actions. In an ironic twist, it turns out to be quite the way to dodge the mortal consequences.

For those who, like me, hold dearly a belief in the afterlife, we know that Mr. Lay is not off the hook yet for his actions. Too bad that some of the CEO's of recent years have not shared in this same belief, because who knows if in the absence of a dissuasive set of Earthly legal consequences that the fear of some eternal consequences might have done some good.

That is just the problem in today's culture, however. Punishments do not fit the crime in the case of most white-collar offenses. That lack of deterrence coupled with the huge potential pay-offs for short-term manipulation and abuse of the system come together to form a huge temptation. Put a person into this situation who's ethical or moral compass in anything but completely true and you have a recipe for disaster.

So what is the fix? Better oversight (how could the SEC approve Mark to Market accounting?). Another thing is more fitting punishments, both in terms of jail time, and in financial terms. Lastly perhaps is a better moral foundation for aspiring executives, and that starts in the home. Greed in unfortunately a human impulse, but starting at an early age it should be tempered by an ethical restraint. Moms and dads, use this lesson to teach your kids that you canít take it with you!

by Cameron Hatch
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