Former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow to visit MU campus

Former Enron finance chief Andrew Fastow, center, arrives for court with his attorney Jan Little on Jan. 14, 2004, in Houston. Fastow is considered the mastermind behind the financial schemes that doomed Enron. He will be speaking Friday at MU during the Orin Ethics Symposium titled, “Pride and Repentance: The Enron Story.”

COLUMBIA — Andrew Fastow will speak at the Trulaske College of Business on Friday, but don't feel bad if you didn't know about it.

Not even the Kenneth L. Lay Chair in MU's Economics Department knew until Wednesday when a reporter called him that Fastow, the former chief financial officer of Enron, would be speaking on campus. Lay, who grew up in Columbia, was Enron's founder and chief executive officer.

The event has been promoted on posters throughout the lobbies in Cornell Hall. But few outside the Business School seem to have heard about Fastow's visit, and details about the talk have been hard to come by. 

Trulaske spokeswoman Ashley Burden said Fastow is receiving $10,000 for his speech. Private funds are paying for his talk, not state money, she said.

Those who know he’s coming have mixed opinions about his talk at the Orin Ethics Symposium titled, “Pride and Repentance: The Enron Story.”

Burden said in an emailed statement that Vairam Arunachalam, director of the School of Accountancy, invited Fastow as a relevant speaker for the ethics symposium.

She said she couldn’t speak to any negative reaction to his talk. She also said she couldn’t find out by Wednesday's deadline how much Fastow is being paid to speak.

Fastow has given speeches at ethics symposiums around the country since his release from prison in 2011. When he was CFO, Enron was one of the biggest companies in the U.S. The energy trading company reported billions of dollars in revenue and had about 20,000 employees.

In 2001, Enron declared bankruptcy, and it was later discovered that the company was involved in a massive accounting fraud, with the help of former "Big 5" accounting firm Arthur Andersen. Company stock prices plunged, thousands lost their jobs and many of Enron’s highest ranking officers were slapped with federal charges.

Fastow, now 53, pleaded guilty to two counts of wire and securities fraud and spent six years in federal prison for his involvement with Enron. He was released in late 2011.

Kenneth Lay went to Hickman High School and studied economics at MU. He died suddenly in 2006, months before his scheduled sentencing after his conviction for six counts of fraud and conspiracy and four counts of bank fraud.

The Kenneth L. Lay Chair, Joseph Haslag, said he’s grateful for the resources Lay gave to support basic research and to hire faculty for the Economics Department. He said he hopes he’s doing wise and scholarly things with the resources.

Haslag said he applauded Fastow’s redemptive process but didn't have any particular opinion on his visit.

Many people within the Business School said they were looking forward to hearing Fastow speak. Assistant finance professor Adam Yore said he plans to attend the talk.

Yore does research in corporate governance, and Enron is often cited as an example of corporate failure, he said.

With high pressure to perform, Yore said people in corporate governance might feel inclined to cut corners. He said he thinks Fastow will teach him and students a lot.

“There’s no textbook on (living an ethical lifestyle),” Yore said. “How do you teach that?"

Accountancy assistant professor Nate Newton said he saw positives in hearing about Fastow’s experience. *He said he thinks it's ironic Fastow would be paid to speak about ethics.

In an emailed statement, Burden said she expects "good attendance" at the event Friday. 

“He’s got good information to share,” she said.

Supervising editor is Katherine Reed.

  • Former assistant city editor for Spring 2016. I also worked as an advanced reporter in the Public Safety and Health beat in Fall 2015. Before that, I worked as a basic reporter in the sports department. Contact me on Twitter: @JackWitthaus

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