Design: Paul Rand
Amidst much pomp and ceremony, the Enron logo – a multi-coloured tilted ‘E’ – was unveiled in January 1997. It signalled the beginning of an aggressive global policy by Enron (est. 1986), as it anticipated the opening of retail energy markets. Jeffrey K. Skilling, then president and CEO of Enron, declared that this was the start of “the process to take Enron from being one of the least well-known large companies, to joining McDonalds, Coca-Cola and American Express as one of the most recognised names in the world.”
In a brazen bid to get some instant kudos, Enron charged Paul Rand, perhaps the most influential corporate identity designer of the 20th century, with the commission. The logo, developed by Rand before his death in 1996, is a deceptively simple design and an effective mnemonic. The capital E is rich in layered ideas and associations: the bold stroke which links the ‘E’ and ‘N’ suggests pipes and cables or connectivity, whilst also representing a household plug. The three horizontal bars on the ‘E’ were coloured in the primary colours red, green and blue (in fact, Rand’s original design used yellow instead of green, but this proved ineffective when copied or faxed).
Employees of Enron quickly dubbed the logo ‘the Crooked E’ – a reference which, even in the early days, implied more than its forty-five degree tilt. By 1997, Enron was becoming more than an energy company. It was creating new markets in water, metals, coal, paper and anything else that could be commoditised. Throughout, it had depicted itself as a highly profitable, growing company. In fact the first quarter of 2001 had put Enron on course for revenues of $240 billion – which would have made it the Fortune No. 1 listed company.
In spite of all that, in late 2001 the company’s profit statements were proved to be untrue and it emerged that massive debts had been hidden. As the depth of the deception unfolded, Enron was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The scandal proved to be one of the biggest in corporate history and its long-term effects are likely to be felt for years to come.
Today, the Enron name is synonymous with ‘corporate irresponsibility’ – and its infamous logo has taken on a whole new meaning. It has become the butt of stinging satire and vitriolic condemnation. According to Professor Stephen J. Eskilson, the Enron E is “the most powerful anti-logo of its time.”