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Mugshot of Lay upon his arrest in 2004
|Born||Kenneth Lee Lay
April 15, 1942
Tyrone, Missouri, U.S.
|Died||July 5, 2006
Snowmass, Colorado, U.S.
|Children||Elizabeth Ayers Lay Vittore
Mark Kenneth Lay
Robyn Anne Herrold Lay Vermeil
Todd David Herrold
Robert Ray (Beau) Herrold
Kenneth Lee "Ken" Lay (April 15, 1942 – July 5, 2006) was an American businessman. He was the CEO and chairman of Enron Corporation for most of its existence and is a central figure in the Enron scandal. Lay was indicted by a grand jury and was found guilty of 10 counts of securities fraud. Lay died while vacationing, three months before his October 23 sentencing. A preliminary autopsy reported Lay had died of a heart attack caused by coronary artery disease and his conviction was vacated.
Lay was born in the Texas County, Missouri town of Tyrone, the son of Ruth (born Rees) and Omer Lay. He moved to Columbia, Missouri and attended David H. Hickman High School and the University of Missouri where he studied economics, receiving a B.A. in 1964 and an M.A. in 1965.He served as president of the Zeta Phi chapter of the Beta Theta Pi fraternity at the University of Missouri. He went on to earn his Ph.D. in economics from the University of Houston in 1970 and soon after went to work at Exxon Company, USA.
Lay worked in the early 1970s as a federal energy regulator. He became an undersecretary for the Department of the Interior and returned to the business world as an executive at Florida Gas Transmission. By the time energy was deregulated in the 1980s, Lay was already an energy company executive and he took advantage of the new climate when Omaha-based Internorth bought his company Houston Natural Gas and changed the name to Enron in 1985. He was also a member of the board of directors of Eli Lilly and Company and a director at Texas Commerce Bank.
Lay was a friend of the Bush family including Vice President George H. W. Bush. He made monetary contributions, led several committees in the Republican Party and was co-chairman of Bush's 1992 re-election committee. As President, Lay flew Bush and his wife to Washington on an Enron corporate plane. In December 2000, Lay was mentioned as a possible candidate for President Bush's Treasury Secretary.
In 1999 Lay was one of America's highest-paid CEOs with a $42.4 million compensation package. Lay liquidated more than $300 million in Enron stock from 1998 to 2001, mostly in stock options.
Lay's company, Enron, went bankrupt in 2001. At the time, this was the biggest bankruptcy in U.S. history. In total 20,000 employees lost their jobs and in many cases their life savings. Investors also lost billions of dollars. On July 7, 2004, Lay was indicted by a grand jury in Houston, Texas, for his role in the company's failure. Lay was charged, in a 65-page indictment, with 11 counts of securities fraud, wire fraud, and making false and misleading statements. The trial commenced on January 30, 2006, in Houston. 
During his trial, Lay claimed that Enron stock made up about 90 percent of his wealth, and that his net worth (in 2006) was in the negative by $250,000. He insisted that Enron's collapse was due to a conspiracy waged by short sellers, rogue executives, and the news media. On May 25, 2006, Lay was found guilty on six counts of conspiracy and fraud by the jury. In a separate bench trial, Judge Lake ruled that Lay was guilty of four additional counts of fraud and making false statements. Sentencing was scheduled for September 11, 2006 and rescheduled for October 23, 2006.
Lay died on July 5, 2006, while vacationing in Colorado. The Pitkin Sheriff's Department confirmed that officers were called to Lay's house in Old Snowmass, Colorado, near Aspen at 1:41 am MDT. Lay was taken to Aspen Valley Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 3:11 am MDT. The autopsy indicated that he died of a heart attack brought on by coronary artery disease, and found evidence that he had suffered a previous heart attack.
A private funeral for about 200 people was held in Aspen four days after his death. His body was cremated and his ashes were buried in an undisclosed location in the mountains. A memorial service was held a week after his death at the First United Methodist Church in Houston. It was attended by 1,100 guests including former President George H. W. Bush.
On October 17, 2006 his conviction was vacated due to pending appeals of guilt. The government opposed Lay's attorneys' motion, and the Department of Justice issued a statement saying it remained "committed to pursuing all available legal remedies and to reclaim for victims the proceeds of crimes committed."
Lay left behind “a legacy of shame” characterized by “mismanagement and dishonesty.” Condé Nast Portfolio ranked Lay as the 3rd worst American CEO of all time. His actions were the catalyst for subsequent and fundamental corporate reform in regard to “standards of leadership, governance, and accountability.”
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