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Last Updated: Monday, 23 October 2006, 20:42 GMT 21:42 UK
Profile: Jeffrey Skilling
Jeffrey Skilling could probably be forgiven for feeling a little lonely as he was sentenced to 24 years and four months in jail by a Houston judge.

Jeffrey Skilling
Jeffrey Skilling is facing decades behind bars

In May, Skilling was found guilty on 19 counts of fraud, insider trading and lying to auditors for his part in the 2001 collapse of energy giant Enron.

Since then, his co-defendant Kenneth Lay has died, which - under Texas law - wipes out his conviction, leaving Skilling to face the music alone.

Admittedly, ex-chief financial officer Andrew Fastow is already in jail; but only for six years, having pleaded guilty and provided much of the testimony which helped put his former boss in the dock.

Now the 52-year-old Skilling - an Enron employee for 11 years, chief operating office for six and finally chief executive for a bare six months - is likely to spend most of the rest of his life behind bars.

Personality clash

It is not the first time he has been there.

Aside from any period spent in the cells after surrendering to the authorities in February 2004, Skilling was briefly locked up after an arrest for public drunkenness in Dallas in September.

Two and a half years earlier, he had narrowly escaped arrest after a drunken scuffle in a New York City cigar bar.

The two incidents add to a picture of a man whose demeanour - even if one ignores the effect of being convicted of a fraud which prosecutors say netted $180m - has been less than endearing.

Kenneth Lay (centre)
Kenneth Lay died two months after being found guilty

Even during the trial earlier this year, eyewitnesses had noted a contrast between the two defendants - the effect of a difference in personalities.

"Lay was more of a people-oriented person," said Rod Jordan, chairman of the Severed Enron Employee Coalition.

"Skilling was more behind the scenes. He came across as more arrogant and self centered and not the cheery, 'hi-how-are-you' kind of guy that Lay was."

For that reason, Mr Jordan has said, there are still some - even ex-Enron employees - with the lingering belief that Lay may have genuinely not known what was going wrong - a benefit of the doubt which does not seem to extend to Skilling.

Responsibilities

The back-room role was how Skilling spent most of his time at Enron.

Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in November 1953, Skilling grew up in New Jersey and Illinois.

ENRON TIMELINE
1985: Enron formed
Oct 2001: Enron reports $638m third quarter loss and $1.2bn fall in shareholder equity
Oct 2001: Securities and Exchange Commission begins inquiry into firm
Nov 2001: Enron shares sink to 10-year lows as buyout deal falls through and further losses are revealed at the firm
Dec 2001: Enron files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy
2002: Criminal investigation launched
2004: Skilling and Lay charged over Enron collapse Former finance chief Andrew Fastow pleads guilty to criminal charges and agrees a 10-year jail term
Jan 2006: Enron trial begins
May 2006: Enron trial ends with guilty verdicts for Skilling and Lay on 25 out of 34 charges
July 2006: Ken Lay dies of a heart attack

His contact with Texas began with his Bachelor of Science degree at Southern Methodist University.

After gaining an MBA at Harvard Business School in 1979, he went on to work for global consultancy McKinsey.

It was during his time at McKinsey that Skilling first came within Enron's, and Lay's orbit, when - in 1987 - he was contracted to help the firm set up a forward market in natural gas.

Joining Enron in 1990, he spent five years in charge of a string of subsidiaries before his promotion to president and chief operating officer - effectively Lay's second-in-command - in 1996.

During this latter period, a car he owned bore the licence plate "WLEC" - World's Leading Energy Company.

Tough at the top

In February 2001, however, he moved into the front rank, taking over the top job from Lay.

A month later he proudly announced that Enron would make revenues of $170bn that year, up from $100bn the year before.

But at this time, Skilling says he was suffering from the pressure of being - as he said on the stand - a "personal lightning rod" for the electricity meltdown which blacked out much of California the year before.

At one point, during a routine conference call, he yelled an obscenity at a bank analyst who had the temerity to question the firm's balance sheet.

On 14 August, he stepped down for "personal reasons", having earned $152m in the previous three years.

Enron's collapse was not long in coming.

That very month, employee Sherron Watkins went to see Lay to tell him she was concerned about the firm's accounting practices.

In October, Enron said that its loss in the past three months alone had been $638m, having written off as much as $1.2bn.

Enron sign being removed
The collapse of Enron had a huge impact on Texas

The admission triggered an investigation by the US financial watchdog, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

And little more than a month after that, Enron declared itself bankrupt.

Share trades

Meanwhile, Skilling was cashing in on his time in Enron.

On 17 September, Skilling sold about 500,000 of his shares, netting a profit of some $15m.

This - he told SEC investigators - was purely a response to the shock of the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and Washington DC.

"I agonised over it," he told the investigators. "[I] absolutely agonised about over it."

But prosecutors said he neglected to mention a previous attempt to sell about 200,000 shares - on 6 September.

That, they argued, implied he knew what was in store for Enron.

Skilling continues to protest his innocence.

He says the company's collapse was the work of a small number of rogue staff - not including Lay or himself - and that its implosion was hastened by the feeding frenzy following the earnings restatement in October.

The jury, however, disagreed. And Skilling looks set to become a guest of the Justice Department for the foreseeable future.


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Skilling expresses remorse over Enron collapse





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