There are plenty of sob stories about the thousands of Enron employees who have been unsuccessful landing new jobs since the company's collapse, and those who were locked out of their 401(k) plans and lost their life savings when Enron's stock plunged to pennies a share. But there are also people like 34-year-old Eric Eden, who started his own lawn-watering business after finding it difficult to secure a new job.
"People I interviewed with would think I was involved in the scandal at Enron," says Eden, who worked at Enron for eight years and did some conceptual drawings for Enron's controversial Dabhol Power Plant in India.
Eden said being judged a "criminal" hurt him emotionally. He was depressed and wasn't sure what to do with his life. Eden tinkered in his garage developing home-improvement appliances. When he decided to start his own line of sprinklers three months after Enron imploded, it was a way to prove to the Houston community that he had nothing to do with Enron's failures. "By starting my own business, I could show how an honest person would run a company," he says.
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"After watching Enron do it right, and then do it wrong," Eden says, "my philosophy is, truth persists and cannot be denied or ignored. I believe in Enron's old values that they lost sight of around 1999: 'Respect, Integrity, Communication and Excellence.'"
Eden came up with an idea for a cheaper version of the underground lawn sprinkler for people who can't afford automated systems or consumers who have to move their sprinklers to various parts of the lawn. Eden's product, Watering Made Easy, is a sprinkler that's buried in the ground and attached to a hose.
The sprinkler is sold on Eden's site and at independent hardware stores in Houston. Eden plans to approach national retailers about carrying his product.
"One thing I was asked when I interviewed at Enron eight years ago was whether I was a risk-taker. I had to remind myself that I am," says Eden.
So far, Eden has spent about $5,000 advertising his product on TV and has yet to turn a profit. But he says he learned early on during his career at Enron that perseverance pays off. "Enron gave me confidence and helped cultivate my creativity," says Eden. "I felt like what I was doing affected the future of Enron. The message was 'Be bold and be creative.' The managers were behind the employees, helping them make ideas happen instead of telling them why they wouldn't work."
Nicole Brown-Steed, 51, started as a Web developer temp at Enron in early 2000. A month later, she was offered a full-time position as a marketing executive. She took the job because "Enron was the type of company that provided stability." During the next 18 months, she became aware of Enron's true financial condition and watched "disgustedly" as executives lied about it to Wall Street. When she was laid off in December 2001, she vowed never to work for a corporation again. "My goal was to establish a business where I work for myself, not for another big company," Brown-Steed says.
With a bank loan and $4,500 in severance, Brown-Steed, a self-described video game junkie, opened a computer game center in June 2002 called NicksLand. The arcade lets players compete against others. "This has been a dream of mine for years," she says.
NicksLand is struggling, Brown-Steed says, as consumers cut back on entertainment spending in the ailing economy, but she is betting that the Christmas season and holiday parties will help her turn a profit.