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Oct. 28--Good corporate ethics start at the top, says Sherron Watkins, the woman credited with discovering the corruption at Enron Corp.
Often, problems arise when company leaders refuse to make tough ethical decisions, she said during the16th annual Enterprising Women's Conference luncheon here Thursday.
At Enron, former CEO Ken Lay forbade employees from using travel agencies other than his sister's, which Watkins described as "incompetent" and "not low-cost." At times, using the agency left her stranded in foreign countries without plane tickets or hotel rooms, she said.
"Look at the message Ken Lay is sending by what he is doing -- once you get to executive status, the company assets are here for you to use for your family."
Watkins was on the fast track at Enron before she switched jobs to devote time to her family. She took the title of vice president for corporate development and made a discovery that would change her life.
"Within two weeks, I had stumbled across massive accounting fraud," she said. "I never in my wildest dreams thought we could do what Enron did."
Watkins alerted Lay to the problems and later testified before congressional committees investigating Enron, once billed as the country's seventh-largest corporation thanks to inflated revenue.
Time magazine named Watkins one of three Persons of the Year for 2002 for her actions. Watkins has co-authored a book on the company's fall and given speeches around the country.
She was asked to speak at the Enterprising Women's Conference at the Marriott Rivercenter because her actions at Enron exemplify ethical leadership traits, said business consultant Nadine Knaus, conference chairwoman. About 700 people attended the luncheon.
"A real passion of mine has been promoting the characteristics of honesty, integrity and ethics in business," Watkins said.
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