When Andrew Fastow takes the stage to speak at a conference full of fraud examiners, you don’t expect him to open with a joke, and certainly not one this filled with irony:
“I understand that there are more fraud examiners than ever before, and I would just like to say, ‘You’re welcome.’”
Thus began Andrew Fastow’s talk at the ACFE Asia-Pacific Fraud conference.
The irony of his opening remarks, the fact that, as he observed, he was awarded CFO of the year and a Federal prisoner ID in the same year, was not lost on him or the audience.
And there was a lot of tension in the laughter, and in the room. While we are all used to seeing convicted felons discuss the folly of their past ways, we rarely get to see a wrongdoer of this magnitude.
As he discussed what he had done, and how long it took him to realize he had done anything wrong, there was a common theme to his admissions: he treated the rules like they were a game to play, not as guidelines for keeping business fair and honest. Here are some of his words:
“I found every loophole in the finance and accounting area.”
“I should have been called the Chief Loophole Officer.”
“Every way I could technically follow the rule but undermine it, I did.”
“I felt being intentionally misleading is just part of the game.”
Fastow remarked that while what he did was wrong, at the time he believed most things, if not everything, was technically legal. He points to the advice Enron received from its accountants and lawyers. It took long after his two convictions to finally learn, as he put it, “You can follow all the rules and commit fraud at the same time.”
And a massive fraud it was. Enron is now synonymous with wrongdoing. The names Lay, Skilling and Fastow are known for all the wrong reasons.
Today Andrew Fastow is a walking reminder of the fact that business is not a game. While we may call the laws “rules”, they are not like the rules of basketball or Monopoly or even checkers. They are laws designed to preserve the integrity of the marketplace.
There is great risk when that distinction is lost. So, the next time you hear someone at work talking dismissively about the rules or arguing that it’s all a big game, you may want to share with them that Andrew Fastow once whole heartedly agreed. And that didn’t really work out so well for him or his company.
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