Close this search box.

Table of Contents

What Was Enron? What Happened and Who Was Responsible


Enron was a U.S.-based energy, commodities, and services company that filed for bankruptcy in 2001 due to massive accounting fraud and financial irregularities, in what was then the largest bankruptcy in U.S. history. The Enron scandal was characterized by the use of off-balance-sheet special purpose vehicles (SPVs), also known as special purposes entities (SPEs), to hide the company’s debt and inflate profits. The key people held responsible were Enron’s top executives including CEO Jeffrey Skilling and Chairman Kenneth Lay, and the accounting firm Arthur Andersen for its role in the company’s fraudulent accounting practices.


The phonetic pronunciation for the keyword phrase “What Was Enron? What Happened and Who Was Responsible” would be:- “What” (wɒt)- “Was” (wɒz)- “Enron” (ˈɛnrɒn)- “What” (wɒt)- “Happened” (ˈhæpnd)- “and” (ænd)- “Who” (huː)- “Was” (wɒz)- “Responsible” (rɪˈspɒnsɪbəl)These are given in International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbols which represent specific sounds in speech. Please note that these are approximate representations as pronunciation can vary by accent or dialect.

Key Takeaways

  1. What Was Enron?: Enron was an American energy, commodities, and services company based in Houston, Texas. It was one of the world’s major electricity, natural gas, communications, and pulp and paper companies, with claimed revenues of nearly $101 billion in 2000. However, the company is known more for its dramatic collapse that took place in 2001.
  2. What Happened?: Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001 as a result of massive corporate fraud. The company’s downfall was precipitated by questionable accounting practices, including special purpose entities (SPEs) that Enron set up to keep debt off their books. The SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) began to investigate, and it was revealed that much of Enron’s earnings were the result of deals with SPVs that Enron itself had created. Consequently, shareholders lost nearly $11 billion when Enron’s stock price, which hit a high of US$90 per share in mid-2000, plummeted to less than $1 by the end of November 2001.
  3. Who Was Responsible?: The main players responsible for Enron’s downfall included major executives at the company, notably CEO Jeffrey Skilling, Chairman Kenneth Lay, and CFO Andrew Fastow. Skilling and Lay were convicted of conspiracy, fraud, and insider trading in 2006, and though Lay passed away before sentencing, Skilling served 12 years in prison before his release in 2019. Fastow confessed to setting up the partnerships which hid Enron’s debt and inflated profits, and served six years in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of wire and securities fraud.


Enron is a significant term in business/finance as it represents one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history. An energy-trading and utilities company based in Houston, Texas, Enron was once hailed as a highly innovative, profitable company but it collapsed in 2001 due to fraudulent accounting practices and an ensuing bankruptcy. Enron’s downfall is considered an important case study of failed corporate governance and ethics. Top executives, including CEO Jeffrey Skilling and former CEO Kenneth Lay, were held responsible for creating a culture that promoted profit at any cost, leading to widespread corruption and eventually financial disaster. Subsequently, this led to severe losses for employees and shareholders, resulted in tighter regulations such as the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, and emphasized the necessity of transparency and integrity in corporate finance.


Enron Corporation, based in Houston, Texas, was established in 1985 and became one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper, and communications companies. Enron had developed, constructed, and operated power plants and pipelines, and was highly lauded for its business model and financial health. It was once labeled “America’s Most Innovative Company” by Fortune for six consecutive years. Built primarily on the model of buying energy at a fixed price and later selling it at a higher rate, the company was widely embraced and admired by the industry and financial analysts.

However, beneath the seemingly prosperous exterior, Enron was far from successful. The company was responsible for one of the biggest corporate scandals in U.S. history, which culminated in its bankruptcy in December 2001. As a result of an ingenious and complicated system of partnerships led by Chief Financial Officer Andrew Fastow and approved by Enron’s board, several debts and toxic assets were kept off the company’s books, which inflated their profits and stock price. When this hidden debt was exposed, it revealed that Enron’s financial health was a mirage, leading to a crisis of confidence that saw their stock price plummet. The massive accounting fraud conducted by its executives was a severe breach of corporate ethics and governance, revealing the depth of corporate misconduct and arrogance. The Enron scandal led to comprehensive financial reforms and new regulations to increase corporate accountability.


Enron, once a Wall Street darling and energy powerhouse founded in 1985, collapsed in 2001 due to massive accounting frauds. Its fall is a pivotal scandal in corporate history, with significant real-world fallout and lasting impact on how business and finance are conducted.

1. Arthur Andersen: One of the real-world entities affected by Enron’s collapse was Arthur Andersen, Enron’s auditing firm. Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice for destroying Enron-related documents during the SEC’s investigation. This resulted in the company surrendering its licenses and effectively shutting down, costing approximately 85,000 employees their jobs.

2. Sarbanes-Oxley Act: Enron’s scandal played a significant role in the development and passing of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002. The Act increased financial transparency and corporate accountability in publicly traded companies in the United States. It mandated strict reforms to improve financial disclosures from corporations and prevent accounting frauds. The Act was created in response to the accounting malpractice that led to Enron’s downfall.

3. Enron’s Executives: The principal characters in the Enron scandal included Enron’s top executives, such as CEO Jeffrey Skilling and Chairman Kenneth Lay. Both were accused of misleading investors about Enron’s financial health, concealing massive losses, and manipulating the energy market. Both executives were found guilty on multiple federal charges, and were held responsible for one of the most infamous cases of corporate fraud and corruption. Kenneth Lay died before he could be sentenced, while Jeffrey Skilling was sentenced to 24 years in prison. These outcomes highlight the grave consequences of corporate malfeasance, not only for companies and their employees but also for the principals involved.

Frequently Asked Questions(FAQ)

What was Enron?

Enron was an American energy, commodities, and services company that was based in Houston, Texas. Established in 1985, it was one of the world’s leading electricity, natural gas, pulp and paper, and communications companies.

What were Enron’s primary operations?

Enron mainly dealt with the generation and distribution of electricity and natural gas, delivered energy and other physical commodities, and provided financial and risk management services to customers around the world.

When and why did Enron go bankrupt?

Enron filed for bankruptcy in December 2001. This happened after it was revealed that it’s reported financial condition was sustained substantially by institutionalized, systematic, and creatively planned accounting fraud, known as the Enron scandal.

What was the Enron Scandal?

The Enron scandal, disclosed in October 2001, involved Enron executives hiding debt and inflating profits using special purpose entities, accounting loopholes, and poor financial reporting. The company’s stocks plummeted, and they declared bankruptcy a few months later.

Who were the key players involved in the Enron Scandal?

The key players of the Enron scandal were Kenneth Lay, Enron’s founder and chairman; Jeffrey Skilling, CEO; and Andrew Fastow, the Chief Financial Officer. All were eventually sentenced to prison for their roles in the fraud.

How has the Enron scandal affected the business world?

The aftermath of the Enron scandal led to significant changes in the regulation and operation of businesses, most especially those in the finance sector. It led to new regulations like the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, which aimed at increasing the accuracy of financial reporting for public companies.

Did all the responsible parties face justice?

Yes, the principal parties involved in the scandal, which includes Kenneth Lay, Jeffrey Skilling, and Andrew Fastow were prosecuted and sentenced to prison. Enron’s accounting firm Arthur Andersen was found guilty of obstruction of justice for shredding Enron’s financial documents to cover up the fraud, but the conviction was later overturned by the Supreme Court.

What happened to the employees of Enron?

When Enron filed for bankruptcy in 2001, thousands of Enron employees lost their jobs and the majority of their retirement savings, which were tied up in Enron’s stock. The federal government later enacted laws to protect the retirement funds of employees.

Related Finance Terms

  • Jeffrey Skilling: The former CEO of Enron, largely responsible for the company’s high risk accounting practices.
  • Andrew Fastow: The former CFO who manipulated Enron’s accounts to keep huge debts off the balance sheets.
  • Mark to Market Accounting: Controversial accounting technique used by Enron, which contributed to its inflated financial figures.
  • Arthur Andersen: The accounting firm that was responsible for Enron’s auditing, whose reputation was also severely damaged in the scandal.
  • Enron Scandal: A financial scandal where Enron was found to have inflated its earnings and hidden debt, leading to its bankruptcy in 2001.

Sources for More Information

About Due

Due makes it easier to retire on your terms. We give you a realistic view on exactly where you’re at financially so when you retire you know how much money you’ll get each month. Get started today.

Due Fact-Checking Standards and Processes

To ensure we’re putting out the highest content standards, we sought out the help of certified financial experts and accredited individuals to verify our advice. We also rely on them for the most up to date information and data to make sure our in-depth research has the facts right, for today… Not yesterday. Our financial expert review board allows our readers to not only trust the information they are reading but to act on it as well. Most of our authors are CFP (Certified Financial Planners) or CRPC (Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor) certified and all have college degrees. Learn more about annuities, retirement advice and take the correct steps towards financial freedom and knowing exactly where you stand today. Learn everything about our top-notch financial expert reviews below… Learn More