Aura of Enron brings out high bidders at auction

Published Sept. 26, 2002|Updated Sept. 3, 2005

The big "E" went for big green.

Enron Corp.'s trademark "tilted-E" sign sold for $44,000 on Wednesday as the bankrupt former energy giant began auctioning off surplus items.

Jimmy Luu, sent by his boss at a Microcache Computer store in Houston to buy the sign, said he was given explicit orders regarding the 5-foot, stainless-steel sign that once stood outside a downtown satellite office.

"He said, "Just do anything to get it,' " Luu said after the gavel came down on the big E in a crowded Houston hotel ballroom.

Scott Bui, attorney for Microcache, said: "The reason we bought this was to preserve this business icon. It also signifies a lot of sweat, greed and fraud in business."

The sign was the highlight among thousands of items up for bid Wednesday and today, ranging from routine office supplies to kitschy items like stress balls, mugs and an air hockey table. The auction will be one of many that will be held to raise proceeds for creditors.

Enron declared bankruptcy amid a wave of accounting irregularities that caused its high-flying stock to crash last year.

Luu said Microcache will display the sign at one its three stores in Houston.

Stephen Bennett, a former Enron programmer, went to the auction seeking some closure. He survived last year's post-bankruptcy layoffs, joined UBS Warburg Energy's new trading operation when the Swiss investment bank acquired it from Enron, and was laid off last month when UBS, like other energy companies, cut back because of the current weak trading market. His hand didn't go up for the "E."

"I thought about bidding, but then I was afraid I might end up with it," he said.

Auctioneer Kirk Dove kept a humorous perspective on the proceedings, calling the sign the "world's largest cufflink." Another "tilted-E" went for $15,000 in a London auction earlier this year.

Bidders began arriving at the Radisson Astrodome about 5 a.m., four hours before the auction began. The hotel was jammed with more than 1,000 bidders, with hundreds more in line waiting to get in. An additional 12,000 people from around the world were registered online.

Bidders expecting bargains, however, might have been disappointed. Electronics, furniture and other items were consistently selling at or above retail price because of the scandal appeal.