- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 31, 2002

HOUSTON (AP) The veteran restructuring specialist chosen to take the helm of embattled Enron Corp. said the fallen energy giant is strong enough to survive bankruptcy, even without its once-envied trading operation.
Stephen Cooper, hired Tuesday as interim chief executive and chief restructuring officer, said in a conference call with reporters yesterday that Enron has all the characteristics of a survivable bankruptcy.
"It's certainly not going to be easy, there will certainly be a number of speed bumps and potholes, but from hindsight, hopefully in the not too-far-distant future, we'll be able to say this worked out as well as it possibly could have worked out for all parties' interests," Mr. Cooper said.
He said Enron's current organization, its businesses, its customer base and liquidity remain adequate to survive its Chapter 11 filing and someday emerge, although smaller and without its flagship trading platform.
"I'm really looking forward to the challenge," Mr. Cooper said. "I'm looking forward to working with the company's thousands of employees and to reorganize this entity."
The call, originally scheduled for midday, was postponed because Mr. Cooper and other Enron officials were on an executive conference call that lasted longer than planned, said spokesman Mark Palmer.
Mr. Cooper, 55, is a managing principal of Zolfo Cooper, a New York-based reorganization adviser. The firm's past clients include Trans World Airlines, Polaroid Corp. and retailer Liberty House.
Swiss investment bank UBS Warburg will take over Enron's trading business, and rival Dynegy Inc. expects this week to acquire one of the fallen energy giant's most prized assets, the 16,500-mile Northern Natural Gas Pipeline system.
That will leave Enron with all or part ownership of three smaller pipelines and several money-losing assets that are up for sale to help pay company debt. Those assets include power operations in Brazil and India, Enron's broadband unit and Azurix Corp., which owns and operates water systems.
Mr. Cooper succeeds Kenneth L. Lay, the former chairman and CEO who resigned last week. Mr. Lay said the myriad investigations into Enron's swift collapse last year were preventing him from running the company efficiently.
The company crashed amid revelations of questionable accounting practices and restated earnings that eliminated millions of dollars in profits since 1997. Shares spiraled down to less than a dollar from roughly $80 a year ago.
Enron executives had created complicated financial partnerships that allowed Enron to keep half a billion dollars in debt off its books while maintaining a healthy credit rating.
The company filed the largest bankruptcy in history on Dec. 2 in New York. More than 5,000 employees in London and at its Houston headquarters were laid off, and most lost retirement nest eggs that were loaded with company stock.
"I can't imagine how difficult it's been for Enron employees over the last several months," Mr. Cooper said. "With the distraction with the business issues and business problems and with the dozens of inquiries and investigations, it's surprising they've been able to keep their focus on the business as well as they have."

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