Photo from Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room

Jeff Skilling is currently on trial for his role in the Enron debacle which brought down an entire company and most of its employees and was likely the major culprit in the California energy crisis of a few years ago. Under Skilling’s leadership, in less than a year Enron’s stock soared and then crashed in a spectacular flame of arrogance and deceit.

Skilling’s story is the age-old story of hubris. David A. Skeel Jr. writes that “the very qualities that make Icaran executives special – self-confidence, visionary insight, and extreme competitiveness – spur them to take misguided and even illegal chances.” This sentence could have been written for Jeff Skilling.

“In part, Jeff Skilling’s influence can be explained by his particular brand of intelligence. When people describe Skilling they don’t just use the word “smart” — they use phrases like “incandescently brilliant” or “the smartest person I ever met.”
Skilling in the late 1980s wasn’t a physically striking man — he was smallish, a little pudgy, and balding — but his mental agility was breathtaking.

He could process information and conceptualize new ideas with blazing speed. He could instantly simplify highly complex issues into a sparkling, compelling image. And he presented his ideas with a certainty that bordered on arrogance and brooked no dissent. He used his brainpower not just to persuade but to intimidate.
Without question, Skilling’s formidable intelligence had a lot to do with turning Enron into a company that was successful — at least for a while.

But he also had qualities that were disastrous for someone running a big company. For all his brilliance, Skilling had dangerous blind spots. His management skills were appalling, in large part because he didn’t really understand people.”

Excerpt from The Smartest Guys in the Room by Bethany and Peter Elkind, copyright © 2003, published by Portfolio, a imprint of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved.

Jeffrey Skilling was born with the Sun in Sagittarius, a sign of optimism and enthusiasm, with a strong sense of faith in the possibilities that life has to offer. Like others profiled in this column, his Sun makes no aspect to any other planets (unaspected Sun), which shows a person who makes his own way through life and finds it difficult to connect with others. The unaspected or singleton Sun is fairly common in the charts of famous people, and some writers have noted that without aspects to other planets and the ability to make interpersonal connections, the individual must work that much harder to gain recognition.

His Leo Moon shows that he craves respect and admiration, and Saturn in square to that Moon shows he didn’t get that admiration as a child. Saturn brings restriction and a sense of isolation, and in square to his Moon would have brought a deep sense of loneliness and inadequacy. His Moon is likely also square to Mercury, making it difficult for him to maintain perspective and giving him a tendency to think emotionally and to be extremely reactive. It is interesting that Skilling could not abide this trait in those that he worked with: “He expected people to behave according to the imperatives of pure intellectual logic, but of course nobody does that (including, it should be said, Skilling himself).” from The Smartest Guys in the Room.

Skilling was driven even as a child. At the age of 13 he was the chief production director for a public access cable channel, and he graduated near the top of his high school class. Skilling’s Mercury (mental functions) is in Scorpio, showing an intense and powerful (Scorpio) mind (Mercury) that is capable of great depth. His Mercury conjuncts Venus, demonstrating his ability to be persuasive (Venus) with his ideas (Mercury): the consummate salesman.

Skilling’s Mars (drive and aggression) fell in peaceful Libra and was squared by the often painful influence of Chiron. He likely had difficulty expressing his own needs at an early age and had suppressed his drives (Mars) in the interest of maintaining peace and equilibrium (Libra). Yet at the same time, Mars is widely squared by Uranus, a combination which gives rise to a love of danger and reckless behavior, such as his annual adventure trips with employees where he attempted to intimidate them with his apparent fearless exploits in motorcycle and car races. His management style was ruthless, where the bottom 20% were fired on a regular basis, yet the employees that remained described the atmosphere as “exhilarating” and “innovative.” The trine of Jupiter (abundance and opportunity) to Neptune (creativity) shows a strong ability to inspire others and to open up to new possibilities. Skilling was out to change the entire industry through the power of his ideas.

Astrologically, this system (called a “T-square”) with Mars as the fulcrum squared by both Chiron and Uranus can provide some of the explanation, but generally an individual who makes this much impact in the world has planets prominently placed on one of the “angles” of the chart, the ascendant or rising sign which describes the personality, and the midheaven, the cusp of the 10th house of highest aspirations.

Skilling shows all the signs of a Uranian personality – a personality dominated by the planet Uranus (the rebel, the innovator, the revolutionary). Unfortunately, we don’t know Skilling’s time of birth so we can’t determine his rising sign or the house structure of the chart, but I have indulged in a fantasy exercise to come up with a chart that fleshes out Skilling’s drives and motivations and gives us a fuller picture of his complex nature.

This fantasy chart uses a birthtime of 3:30 am and shows Libra rising with his Libra Mars on the ascendant. Skilling has the smooth charm of the Libra ascendant. Libra is the sign of partnership and ruled by the goddess Venus, who bestows the gifts of charm and flattery. The positive manifestation of Libra rising is beauty and harmony and the ability to please others; the negative manifestation is manipulation. Because the ascendant describes the mask that we wear to the world, in my fantasy birthchart Skilling was able to use the Libra sense of what others wanted to manipulate them into believing his world view. Skilling has been described as often “abrasive and downright rude” which would be explained by Mars on the ascendant, even in Libra. A planet on the ascendant becomes part of the personality, and while Libra rising is rarely rude, Mars as the god of war is very much “in your face” and aggressive. Skilling was described as “brilliant and intimidating” which would correspond well with Mars on the ascendant.

In my fantasy chart, Uranus (planet of rebellion and innovation) is on the midheaven, the cusp of the 10th house. The 10th house is known as the career house, but it is also the house of our highest aspirations. It shows the kinds of goals we have and how we are likely to achieve them. Uranus on the 10th house would explain not only Skilling’s innovative yet bizarre (both Uranian keywords) management style (10th house), but also his desire to create no less than a totally radically new (Uranus) way of looking at business (10th house). Risk-taking (Uranus square Mars) and “thinking outside the box” (Uranus) were rewarded at Enron, and no one was at the wheel (Ur
anus on the midheaven doesn’t care for the day-to-day operations of the business, and neither did Skilling).

Chiron would then be conjunct Skilling’s nadir, or the cusp of his fourth house. The fourth house is the house of our emotional nature, our family and psychological roots. It also shows the inner dimensions of our life – how we make contact with our deeper self. With Chiron in that placement, Skilling would have felt a void, a painful wound (Chiron) that would not heal unless he faced his inner demons. We know that he refused to do so; instead he directed his energies into the business world. In 2004 Skilling’s demons were on display for all to see when his excessive drinking led him to harass people on the streets of New York City after being thrown out of a bar, accusing strangers of being with the FBI and resulting in his being taken by police to a hospital for his “emotionally disturbed” behavior.

My fantasy birthchart for Jeff Skilling also shows the Sun in the 2nd house of money and personal possessions, and certainly Skilling was focused on aquiring wealth (2nd house). An article in Business Week quotes an ex-employee: “Skilling said all that matters is money.” This article reveals a fascinating portrait of the Enron culture and the downfall of Jeffrey Skilling.

Skilling is truly a modern-day Icarus, who falls so in love with the wings he has created that he flies too close to the Sun and is punished by the gods for his hubris. His is a cautionary tale, warning us to balance the needs of the ego with a strong inner center, grounding our life into a sense of reality.

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