As the former CFO of Azurix, Enron's troubled global water company and the company's first big financial failure, Randy Dutton has learned what it takes for an entrepreneur to succeed.
Dutton spends most of his time these days making sure the accounting books are in order at Atelier du Papier, the company he started with his wife, Deborah, 47. Atelier du Papier designs custom stationery and invitations for weddings and other occasions. The fraud at Enron haunts him and also keeps him on his toes.
"My involvement in the paper company is setting up checks and balances. The biggest challenge is managing growth and spending," says Dutton.
In launching the paper company, Dutton drafted a business plan, set up its accounting system and secured a line of credit. Between personal investments and loans, Atelier spent $60,000 getting started.
"We're doing well," says Dutton, who worked at Enron for more than four years. "We've grown nationwide and signed with Neiman Marcus to carry the line." The company also sells directly to retailers at trade shows.
"We make decisions and take risks that you don't often make on the corporate side," says Dutton. "We're creating a market for a product, which is exactly what my job at Enron was."
|Live and Learn|
|Enron's downward spiral drove a stake through the
heart of the corporate sector, causing a ripple effect that put
other high-flying corporations under the accounting microscope and
resulted in casualties such as Adelphia, Qwest, Tyco and WorldCom,
to name a few.|
The malfeasance by these corporations has already resulted in the passage of federal laws designed to make sure history doesn't repeat itself. But more important, many of Enron's former employees learned some valuable philosophical lessons on how to run a business as a result of their former employer's collapse, and they have some advice for people starting out.
"I think if you treat people fairly and respectfully and give them a good career path, you can build tremendous loyalty," says Phyllis Anzalone, 45, a former Enron employee who started Powering Texas, a retail energy company, in early 2002, just as Texas began opening its electricity market to competition. "Integrity is important to us," says Anzalone. "We're building a name and reputation for ourselves, which means a lot more than money."
Eric Eden, a former Enron employee who developed a sprinkler system called Watering Made Easy, says honesty is a key ingredient to remain in business. "If your integrity is called into question, you're finished," Eden says.
He adds that, like Enron, he wants to empower his employees to succeed-but not at the expense of his ethics. "I place the utmost importance on allowing the people actually doing the work to influence the product and business process," Eden explains.
"I want to align my company's goals with my employees' goals." Ken Rubeli, ex-Enron employee and vice president of Mobius Risk Management, says it's important not to try and spread yourself too thin. "That's what really hurt Enron financially," says Rubeli. "The company believed that everything it would touch would eventually turn to gold. Enron was an energy company, but it wanted to also be a water company, a broadband company, a paper company and anything else it could do to make money. If you get too greedy and lose sight of who your niche market is, you can destroy yourself."
Jason Leopold is the former bureau chief of Dow Jones Newswires. He left Dow Jones in April 2002 to write a book on California's electricity crisis.