Glenwood High grad is one of few Enron success stories
February 25, 2002
When Glenwood Springs High School installed a “Wall of Pride” in its lobby, it intended to tout the accomplishments of graduates and motivate students to aspire to their own success.One might wonder, then, how a collection of framed displays about politicians, athletes, artists and other notable alumni came to include one of an executive with Enron Corp.After all, the Houston-based energy-trading company’s bankruptcy is the biggest in U.S. history. It left thousands of Enron workers penniless, created widespread corporate-accounting concerns in the stock market and may result in the criminal prosecution of some Enron managers.Yet there on Glenwood High’s wall is 1981 graduate Greg Piper, recognized for his work as president and chief executive officer of Enron Net Works, which houses EnronOnline.”It is kind of an ironic sort of thing,” GSHS principal Mike Wells acknowledged about the recognition.But he said no one has questioned the appropriateness of honoring Piper. His name hasn’t surfaced in the reports about those who mismanaged the company and engaged in insider trading. And Piper has a stellar reputation going all the way back to his high school days. So there are no plans to remove his display from the wall unless something changes.”We’ll keep it up for right now,” said Wells. “I mean, he accomplished a great deal.”Indeed he has. Piper’s display includes stories from last year’s Darwin Magazine and Smart Business Magazine, which prominently quote Piper in articles in which they bestow top honors on Enron and the work of its Web-based business.Smart Business Magazine, which ran a picture of Piper, named Enron as the best of its Smart Business 50 list of most-profitable Internet companies, while Darwin declared Enron the best of its Fittest 50 companies.Both publications might wish they could take back the selections now. Enron didn’t survive the battle of the financial fittest after all. But that doesn’t take away from the fact that Enron’s online segment achieved quite a lot under Piper’s direction, moving into a broad range of commodities trading and greatly expanding its market.”Enron … stormed onto the Internet with one of the largest private marketplaces in history, doing over $3 billion in transactions a day,” Smart Business reported. About 60 percent of its deals closed online.Darwin Magazine, although acknowledging at its story’s end that the company had begun experiencing some troubles, nonetheless was full of praise, particularly for the Internet aspect of the company.Its story quoted Bruce D. Temkin, group director at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research, as saying, “EnronOnline is one of the leading examples of the right way to apply technology. While other dotcoms tried to invent new business models, or made them up, Enron has done a great job of (using technology to) extend its business model.”Piper couldn’t be reached for comment last week. Norm Bolitho, who was a classmate of Piper’s at GSHS and now teaches English there, said Piper isn’t one of those to blame for Enron’s recent collapse and the resulting fallout.”It’s misleading. He works for Enron but he’s not part of what has happened. He put together and ran one of the better Net companies in the world,” Bolitho said.”They weren’t really part of the scandal. His division wasn’t doing anything wrong – they definitely got hit by it. They weren’t involved in any cheating, stealing or illegal activities. They ran a pretty solid business and were recognized as such,” he added.Both Bolitho and Wells spoke highly of Piper.”Greg was always a great kid – very, very bright, a good student,” said Wells.He said Piper was the youngest child in a well-known family in town. His father, Charles, now deceased, taught biology at GSHS.Piper was an all-conference basketball player, said Bolitho, who was a teammate. He also played at the Colorado School of Mines, where he earned an engineering degree. He went on to work in the oil and gas industry.He reportedly left LG&E Power in 1993 to join Enron Power Marketing, an Enron subsidiary, as account director.Piper returned to Glenwood Springs last year for his 20th class reunion.Bolitho keeps in touch with Piper, and said that at last report, he was still working with Enron.”One of the reasons he was still there was to kind of put together a deal to sell the company he was running,” said Bolitho.As something of a testament to Piper, Enron’s trading business, so dependent on its EnronOnline division, was one of the few parts of the company that was considered profitable and an asset that could be sold. In January, a judge approved selling the trading business to a Swiss investment bank, assuring its survival in some restructured form.It was Bolitho who noticed the business magazine write-ups on Enron and Piper last year and brought them to Wells’ attention. As it turned out, the display on Piper went up just days before the Enron collapse began.Wells said he’s not closely familiar with the Enron story or its corporate structure, but he senses Piper wasn’t high enough in the company to have been part of the mismanagement and possible wrongdoing.”I would hope he’s not involved in any of that,” he said.Said Bolitho, “He probably pays a little bit of a price for association, but as far as his integrity, he’s about as good as it gets.”In their conversations since the collapse of Enron, Piper took note of the human toll that has been exacted, according to Bolitho.”He said it’s hard to see people get let go,” Bolitho said.