Business and Markets

Are We Still Living in Enron’s World?

March 27, 2020  • Business and Society Program

There is much about the Enron scandal that feels of its moment—but not everything does. A culture of celebrity surrounding business leaders is arguably deeper entrenched today than in 2001, when Enron filed for bankruptcy. And, as recent scandals like Theranos demonstrate, Enron wasn’t the last fall from grace to capture the public’s imagination. This episode looks back on Enron, Tyco and Worldcom to consider what has and has not changed since those scandals. Its focus is on their aftermath: efforts in Congress and in academia to change business conduct for the better. What have we learned about how to stop companies from going bad?

The Business 20/20 podcast is a series that explores the changing relationship between business and society from 1999 to today. Each episode unpacks a key event—from the Seattle WTO protests to the global financial crisis and beyond—to find insights for the future. Produced by the Aspen Institute’s Business & Society Program and hosted by Michelle Harven.

Follow the Business & Society Program on @AspenBizSociety and subscribe to the Business & Society Newsletter.

Are We Still Living in Enron’s World? What to Read to Go Deeper

In the spirit of “Foresight Through Hindsight,” here’s what to read on the issues discussed in this episode—both for foresight on the future, and greater clarity in hindsight on the recent past.


The importance of people people (The Economist) Makes interesting reference of how the early 2000s scandals like Tyco transformed the human resources profession, with implications for the present—and future.

I Never Thought I Would End Up In Prison: White Collar Dilemmas (Stephen B. Castleberry, PhD, The Journal of Business Case Studies) Short first-person account that cut right to the heart to the heart of the issues.

Giving Voice to Values: How to Speak Your Mind When You Know What’s Right (Mary Gentile) If you’re interested in learning more about Giving Voice to Values, or GVV, this site offers a one-stop resource.


How Enron Blew It (Mimi Swartz, Texas Monthly) Worth reading for the description of how Enron appeared at its peak—a glittering symbol of progress and profit.

Person of the Week: ‘Enron Whistleblower’ Sherron Watkins (Frank Pellegrini, Time Magazine) A window into the company’s fast-accelerating collapse. What enabled Sherron Watkins to speak truth to power?

What the Enron E-Mails Say About Us (Nathan Heller, The New Yorker) What did an analysis of thousands of Enron emails reveal about power dynamics in written communications?

Episode Notes


Rick Wartzman, Doug Chia, Mary Gentile


Michelle Harven

Writing and Production

Written by Keith Schumann with input from T.A. Frank, Miguel Padró, Felicia Davis, and the Business & Society Team. 

Recorded by Ben Eyler and edited by Jesse Krinsky.

The Business & Society team wishes to thank the audio technicians and everyone involved in the production of this episode, including:

  • Chiquita Paschal
  • Anny Celsi
  • Michael Bernier
Music Samples Featured in this Episode

Algorithms by Chad Crouch (Excerpted form of the track; used under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 License)

Dark Alleys by Kai Engel (Excerpted form of the track) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Infiltration by Room Of Wires (Excerpted form of the track) Licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

The Stork by Ketsa (Excerpted form of the track) Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)

Tobacco Road – Storyblocks Audio

Climate Change
Is History Repeating Itself on Climate, Government, and Business?
February 25, 2020 • Business and Society Program