Business Technology: Kids Want Straight Answers

As a parent, Bob Evans needs to explain such tough topics to his teenager as sex, drugs and... Enron.
Fourteen-year-old to parent: "So what do you think about this Enron thing?"

"Well, it's complicated. What part of it are you asking about?"

Long, silent gaze, bordering on both incredulity at the question and suspicion at the dodge. "The part about a few top-level people lying through their teeth and selling their own shares while the price was high and making tens of millions while they were telling all the regular workers to keep buying the stock with all their pension money no matter how the price went."

"Well, like I said, it's complicated. A lot of people at all levels of the company made a lot of money, at one time, from Enron's innovative and market-making approaches. And that's not a bad thing. But equity markets are complicated, and it's hard to know when to sell."

"Why do you talk to me like I'm an idiot?"

"Hey, hey, hey: Why would you say something like that? I tried to answer your question in a reasonable way without making it overly complicated."

"I said it because you're speaking in some meaningless language and you're avoiding answering what I'm really asking when you say nonsense like 'Enron's innovative and market-making approaches.'"

"Sources close to the investigation who had seen the tape said it showed Pearl dead, his throat cut. The announcements crushed the hopes of Pearl's colleagues and his pregnant wife, who had pleaded for the reporter's safe return ever since he was abducted in the Pakistani port city of Karachi on Jan. 23. ... 'Up until a few hours ago, we were confident that Danny would return safely, for we believe that no human being could be capable of harming such a gentle soul,'his family said in a statement. ... In the weeks since her husband's capture, Mariane Pearl, a freelance journalist, had pleaded for his freedom and offered herself in his place. She is now seven months pregnant with the couple's first child.

--From's news report on the kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Danny Pearl, Friday, Feb. 22, 2002

"Geez, you gotta give me some slack here--I was just trying to put it in terms you could understand. See, Enron was doing things no company had ever done before--that was the innovation--and because of those new ideas, they were making a market for an entirely new type of company that behaved in ways no company ever had before." Pause; stage whisper: "It's a Wall Street term."

"So that makes it a good thing?"

"Well, it's not necessarily a bad thing. We have a lot of laws about who can know what and when they can know it and how they have to tell everyone what they know at the same time and how they can't act in their own self interest on information that hasn't been shared with everybody. It's--"


"That's not the sort of attitude that helps you learn how the world works."

"Well, Dad/Mom, tell me this: Would you have done what those Enron people did?"

"Aw, c'mon, these hypothetical questions aren't fair! What I do know is that I can say I'm really, really sorry for all the employees who lost everything. But did those executives break the law? I don't know; it's compli--er, it's tricky."

"Mom/Dad, have you used Napster?"

"What do you mean?"

Silence. Stare. Sense of growing anger.

"Well, yeah, of course I've used it--I taught you how to use it."

"Have you used it since that judge said it was illegal?"

Cough. Run fingers through hair. Pucker lips. Flip hands. Reply with idiotic question: "Well, that depends on what you mean by 'used' it."

Look of defiance mixed with tinge of pity and more than a little disgust. "Dad/Mom, I'll give you one more chance: What did Enron pay Arthur Andersen to do? And if you tell me it's complicated, I'll set my alarm clock for 3 a.m. and blast my Marilyn Manson CD out the window so loud it'll wake up the whole neighborhood."

"Arthur Andersen was supposed to make sure Enron followed all the laws we have about how companies have to tell everyone fairly and accurately about where and why money was coming into the company and where and why it was going out."

"And did Andersen do what it was paid to do and promised, by law, to do?"

"Apparently not. But that's hard to say."

"Ahhh--hard to say. I guess it's hard to say why they shredded documents if they had nothing to hide, right? And hard to say why they kept so quiet while all those employees were getting screwed?"

"Gosh, I don't know. ... Maybe they didn't really 'know' it, even though they probably should have, like, expected it." Horrible, long, deafening, awkward silence. "But Andersen is offering to try to make up some of the money some of the people lost."

Penetrating, otherworldly look. "OK, Mom/Dad, thanks a lot for the insights. Now I'm gonna go up to my room and log on to Napster. But don't worry about what I'll be doing: It's complicated."

Bob Evans
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