HOUSTON – Enron Corp.'s top executive on Tuesday publicly fired off the same vulgarity that brought President George W. Bush embarrassing headlines when he unwittingly uttered it in front of an open microphone last fall.
But unlike Bush, Enron President and Chief Executive Officer Jeff Skilling says he knew the microphone was on when he called a fund manager an "a...... during a conference call to discuss first-quarter earnings with analysts.
Bush made headlines on the campaign trail last year when he remarked to Vice President Dick Cheney that a New York Times reporter was a "major-league a......," not knowing that a microphone had picked up his remark.
Skilling laid down the insult after an exchange with Richard Grubman, managing director of Highfields Capital Management in Boston, who asked to see Enron's balance sheet and was told it would not be available until its inclusion in a Securities and Exchange Commission filing later this month.
"You're the only financial institution that can't come up with balance sheet or cash flow statement after earnings," Grubman grumbled.
"Well, thank you very much, we appreciate that. A.....," Skilling responded with a laugh.
Skilling, whose candor frequently gives his public relations staff fits, told Reuters in a telephone interview that he knew the microphone was on.
"The specific fellow that I was not real happy with is a shortseller in the market. I don't think it is fair to our shareholders to give someone a platform like that they are using for some personal vested interest related to their stock position," Skilling told Reuters in an interview.
"I get a little exasperated with that sort of thing, and I want people to know I am exasperated," he said.
Grubman said he felt "pretty thin-skinned" about the remark.
He disputed Enron's assertion the balance sheets and cash flow statements were not ready yet, particularly in light of Skilling's mention during the call that Enron reconciles its credit risks and trading book daily.
"I'm sort of at a loss as to why that was such an objectionable question," Grubman said, adding:
"He's got some nerve. He and his management team sold 7 million shares into the market last year, so he's plugged the market for a half a billion dollars worth of stock valued in the $70s and $80s.
"Now the stock is the high $50s-low $60s and I'm an asshole because I ask about the balance sheet?"
Enron's shares closed at $60, up 56 cents, on the New York Stock Exchange on Tuesday, after reporting better-than-expected first-quarter earnings.