Enron Wife Linda Lay Sells
Off Family Treasures In PR Stunt


Everything Must Go
In an astute PR move, the wife of the disgraced former chief of Enron is selling off the family treasures from some of their 15 houses. Olga Craig talks to Linda Lay in her second-hand shop in Texas...
The Sunday Telegraph 9-29-2
In an astute PR move, the wife of the disgraced former chief of Enron is selling off the family treasures from some of their 15 houses. Olga Craig talks to Linda Lay in her second-hand shop in Texas
'No, it isn't easy to part with pieces of your life," says Linda Lay, as she settles into the richly embroidered upholstery of the 19th-century chaise longue that dominates the downstairs display of her store in Houston.
Her manicured nails trace its ornately carved gold arms, lingering to fiddle with the $2,600 price tag that dangles discreetly from a black raffia ribbon. "Prince Albert of Monaco once sat upon this," she says brightly. "It's seen some famous folk."
She points to a pair of stone angels that formerly graced a 17th-century French church. "What's really hard is parting with the religious items I've collected, not the furniture," she says. The angels ($500 each) have red "sold" signs hanging from their wings.
It seems a little pious, a little practised. But then Mrs Lay, 56, the wife of Kenneth Lay, the disgraced former chief executive of Enron, the bankrupt American energy company, is well versed in marketing herself.
Before she opened Jus' Stuff, the antiques gallery that she has leased to sell the couple's belongings after pleading poverty when the $30 billion Enron empire collapsed, she employed Hill and Knowlton, the biggest public relations firm in Texas, indeed the world, to perfect the art.
When your husband, once lauded as the city's chief benefactor, is now the city's social pariah, you need all the public relations help you can get. (Mr Lay is under investigation in several lawsuits over the $70 million he realised by selling his Enron shares - before it went bankrupt last December - while encouraging shareholders to buy).
"It isn't nice to sell things from one's own home," she says in a despondent voice. Which one, I ask disingenuously? After all, the Lays had 15 houses worth more than $40 million - 13 in Texas worth almost $29 million, and two in Aspen, Colorado. It cannot be easy, it must be supposed, to remember which item came from where.
As Mrs Lay, the former first lady of Houston's elite social circuit who once dined with presidents and entertained royalty, greets another customer, three miles across the city Jimmy Luu, the owner of Microcache, a Houston computer company, is posing for a photograph beside the 5ft-high "crooked E" corporate emblem that once emblazoned Enron's offices at the Three Allen Centre.
It is the first day of the Enron liquidation auction and he has successfully bid $44,000 for the "E". "It's an opportunity to preserve a piece of corporate history," he crows excitedly. "I would have paid whatever it took."
Three thousand buyers queued for three hours in the 90F heat for the chance to bid for some of the 6,000 Enron items - from computers that sold for thousands of dollars to $325 DVD players and television sets, as well as $10 beer coolers and golf balls stamped with the Enron logo.
Another 20,000 made bids online. Some just wanted a souvenir of the company that ditched 4,500 employees in Houston, many of whom lost life savings and pensions that were tied up in Enron stock. Many lost their homes - unlike the Lays, these people had only the one.
Back in Jus' Stuff, Mrs Lay does not wish to discuss the Enron auction. She is busily marking 20 per cent off items that have not sold. She is in her "scruffs" today, she tells me - embroidered jeans and polo shirt - because she is clearing out a storeroom to accommodate more stock.
"We've already cleared the stock four times," she trills, her Washington accent now decidedly taking on a Texan drawl.
"Ken and I have just agreed the sale of two more homes so we're waiting to see if the buyers want the furnishings. If not, they will come here."
She scratches her head and moans: "If I'd known I would be going into retail I would have kept better records."
Robyn, her daughter, who co-owns the store, raises her eyebrows. "Mum was used to going around the world buying what she fancied, she never thought about price and provenance," she says.
"That's why we've had to have so many pieces valued: mum has no idea what she paid for them. We don't want to charge $1,000 for something worth $5,000."
Perhaps realising that she may have committed a PR gaffe, she adds quickly: "But we've all had to downsize. We have all had to move to smaller houses."
There is downsizing and there is downsizing. Mrs Lay and her husband (she calls him "Kenneth boy") have sold the two Aspen homes and she insists that all the others - save their $8 million penthouse in the elite River Oaks development in Houston - must be sold.
Naturally, however, they are not selling at a loss. One 3,000 square foot house sold for $10 million. The couple bought it 11 years ago for $1.9 million.
There is also the $103 million - including a salary of $1.7 million, a bonus of $7 million, long-term incentives of $3.6 million, $81.5 million in loan advances and not forgetting the $49 million of stock options and restricted stock - that Mr Lay collected last year alone.
Why, then, did Mrs Lay go on national television, weeping bitterly, to claim: "It's all gone. We've lost everything."
The crying poor act outraged former friends in Texas. But Mrs Lay says, "What we make here is towards legal bills." Her husband, it is rumoured, spends 10 hours a day cooped up with his lawyer.
That she works hard in her store is not in doubt. She arrived before 10am and was still there at 8pm, long after closing time. For her lunch break, she went home and returned with a plate of cold cuts, encased in foil.
As Robyn opens a can of Coke her mother warns her of its sugar content. "Not as bad as what you drink," Robyn teases. "Mocha coffee with whipped cream from Starbucks is 440 calories a cup," she tells her.
Mrs Lay pulls a face. "I get a lot of exercise here," she says. The store is crammed with antiques and bric-a-brac. Some pieces are tasteful, some decidedly not.
There is an antique brocade bed cover for $5,000; a pair of yellow, iron fighting cocks for $4,000; a padded senate bench for $5,200; a pair of gilded chairs at $8,000 and scores of folksy wooden items with messages of "Home is where the heart is".
Very little has a price tag under three figures. "But we want everyone to be able to afford things," Robyn says. "There are candles for $5, I mean anyone could afford that," she says.
Whether such stock holds much appeal for buyers is another matter. Roger Boyce, for example, should be comfortably enjoying his third year of retirement, secure in the knowledge that his lifetime of saving and investment - and what he considered the good fortune of working for an innovative company - had paid off.
Instead, Enron's financial trickery has whittled his nest egg down from $2 million to little more than a few thousand dollars. He was a loyal Enron employee for 30 years; now he feels betrayed.
"I trusted them," he says flatly. He is not interested in visiting Mrs Lay's store. "There is absolutely nothing that belonged to Kenneth Lay that I would touch," he says coldly.
Angelina Lario, who lives in Katy, 30 miles from the Lays, crosses the street when she walks past Jus' Stuff's expensive facade in Main Street. Angelina worked for Enron for 26 years and amassed more than $500,000 of shares, which were to be her pension.
"They lied to us repeatedly," she says. "We were told that the company was doing great. When, at the last employee meeting, someone stuck up his hand and asked Kenneth Lay if he was on crack, I thought it was so disrespectful. Now I know better."
At 56, Angelina's future is bleak. She has no job and no savings. "Enron was the seventh largest company in the world and Kenneth Lay brought it to this," she says. "Greed took over. Those guys were rich and they just wanted to get richer and richer."
Mrs Lay, as she greets yet another customer, does not of course meet many of her husband's former employees. He is, she insists, a "100 per cent decent, honest, moral man who would do nothing wrong. He was misled".
She is needed in the storeroom so it is left to Robyn to explain to the British couple who are viewing a bed that shipping it home will save them money. She whips out her calculator and estimates that they will save $190 in tax. As she disappears to "put on my pinny", the couple raise their eyebrows. "It's tack," says the woman.
"It's 'just stuff' all right. Stuff they bought ripping off other people," her husband says. His glance takes in the three female staff busily packaging newly sold items at the back of the store, before turning to his wife: "I wonder what sort of pension plans are on offer to the Jus' Stuff staff?"


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