Bethany McLean Bio, Husband, Age, Net Worth, Books and Enron

Bethany Mclean Biography

Bethany McLean (Full name- Bethany Lee McLean) is an American journalist and contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine. She was born on December 12, 1970, Hibbing, Minnesota, U.S. McLean started her career at Goldman Sachs as an investment banking analyst and joined Vanity Fair as a contributing editor in 2008. In 2010, she began as a contributor to Slate’s Moneybox column and The Bulldog column in Fortune.

McLean became well known for her writing on the Enron scandal and the 2008 financial crisis. Previous assignments include columnist for Fortune, editor-at-large and a contributor to Slate. McLean received a B.A. in English and mathematics, in 1992,  from Williams College.

Bethany Mclean Husband | Sean Berkowitz

In 2000, McLean married Chris Wilford but they divorced in 2006. McLean then married Sean Berkowitz, a partner with the law firm, Latham & Watkins in May 2008. Sean Berkowitz is the former Director of the Enron Task Force; they met through their mutual connection to that case.

Sean Berkowitz prosecuted former employees of Enron who were accused of white collar crimes, principally accounting fraud. He was the lead prosecutor in the joint trial of Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling (younger brother of veteran meteorologist Tom Skilling). In 2006, shortly after securing guilty verdicts against both, Berkowitz left the Department of Justice to become a partner at Latham & Watkins LLP in Chicago.

The couple currently resides in Chicago with their two children.

Bethany Mclean Enron | The Smartest Guys in the Room

Bethany McLean wrote an article regarding dubious trading and share valuation at Enron, in apiece titled ‘Is Enron Overpriced?‘. She raised concerns on the complex businesses that Enron engaged in stating that its financial statements were nearly impenetrable. Even the Wall Street analysts were at pains to explain how Enron made its money.

Based on this article,  Bethany McLean co-authored the book The Smartest Guys in the Room, which detailed the corrupt business practices of Enron officials. The book was later made into the Academy Award nominated documentary Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room which was directed by Alex Gibney.  An excerpt from McLean’s article stated as follows:

But for all the attention that’s lavished on Enron, the company remains largely impenetrable to outsiders, as even some of its admirers are quick to admit. Start with a pretty straightforward question: How exactly does Enron make its money? Details are hard to come by because Enron keeps many of the specifics confidential for what it terms “competitive reasons.” And the numbers that Enron does present are often extremely complicated. Even quantitatively minded Wall Streeters who scrutinize the company for a living think so. “If you figure it out, let me know,” laughs credit analyst Todd Shipman at S&P. “Do you have a year?” asks Ralph Pellecchia, Fitch’s credit analyst, in response to the same question.

To skeptics, the lack of clarity raises a red flag about Enron’s pricey stock. Even owners of the stock aren’t uniformly sanguine. “I’m somewhat afraid of it,” admits one portfolio manager. And the inability to get behind the numbers combined with ever higher expectations for the company may increase the chance of a nasty surprise. “Enron is an earnings-at-risk story,” says Chris Wolfe, the equity market strategist at J.P. Morgan’s private bank, who despite his remark is an Enron fan. “If it doesn’t meet earnings, [the stock] could implode.

Bethany McLean's Photo
Bethany McLean’s Photo

Bethany Mclean Books

  • Bethany McLean; Peter Elkind (2004). The Smartest Guys in the Room: The Amazing Rise and Scandalous Fall of Enron.
  • Bethany McLean; Joe Nocera (August 30, 2011). All the Devils Are Here: The Hidden History of the Financial Crisis.
  • Bethany McLean (September 14, 2015). Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants.
  • Bethany McLean (September 11, 2018). Saudi America: The Truth About Fracking and How It’s Changing the World.

Bethany Mclean Shaky Ground

Bethany McLean published Shaky Ground: The Strange Saga of the U.S. Mortgage Giants, in September 2015. The book examines the governance and financial situation of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac seven years after the 2008 financial crisis

Bethany Mclean All The Devils Are Here

Bethany McLean co-authored a book on the 2008 financial crisis titled All the Devils Are Here. This is a nonfiction book about the 2008 financial crisis by authors Bethany McLean and Joseph Nocera. It details how the financial crisis bubbled up from a volatile, and bipartisan, mixture of government meddling and laissez-faire. It concludes it was not an accident, that banks understood the big picture before the crisis happened but continued with bad practices.

Bethany Mclean Age

McLean was born on December 12, 1970, Hibbing, Minnesota, U.S. She is 48 years old as of 2018.

Bethany Mclean Net Worth

Bethany McLean is an American journalist and editor who was born in Hibbing, Minnesota in December 1970. McLean is a contributing editor for Vanity Fair magazine. She has an estimated net worth of $6 million. McLean worked on the Enron scandal and the 2008 financial crisis.

Bethany Mclean Interview

McLean did an article about Microsoft entitled, The Empire Reboots. She talked about how she reported her article and how she found sources inside of Microsoft, how she landed interviews with the likes of Bill Gates, and why she rarely records her interviews.

Why don’t you set up the story a little bit, Bethany?

Bethany McLean: Okay. So the story was a long time in the works. I started working on it last January or February. It was originally going to be a story about the search for a new CEO at Microsoft, because Steve Ballmer, who was only the company’s second CEO in its history, had either resigned or was forced out—depending on which story you believe — and the search for the new CEO was not going well. But before I could get the piece done—Vanity Fair has long lead times—Microsoft announced a new CEO [Satya Nadella]. So suddenly the story shifted. It became a story not just about the board search, but about the company, its history, and what had gone wrong.

This is a massive company and a sensitive story. It’s not like you can just phone up the board and get a bunch of candid interviews about the search. So how do you start a story like this?

Bethany McLean: This was honestly one of the hardest stories I’ve ever done, if not the hardest, for a couple of reasons. First of all, Microsoft people don’t talk. And second, I’m just not a technology reporter. I’d never written about Microsoft before. I frankly didn’t even understand their business when I started. If you would ask me what Microsoft’s business was, I would have been like, “Computers?” It was enormous amount of work to get up to speed.

I had one source to begin with, which helped a lot, but this was not someone I could ever quote. It was just someone who helped me with the outlines of the piece and said, “Well, there is a story here.” I had to go get it and figure out what the story was.

Can you give us any sense of how you found that first person?

Bethany McLean: That was the easiest part of it. When you’ve been doing this for a while, sometimes people come to you and say, you should write about this. I can’t help you at all, but you should look at this.

As I delved into the story, it just became more complicated. It wasn’t just about the board and about the difficulties in finding a CEO, it became really about Ballmer’s legacy, about what actually happened inside Microsoft, about the feud between him and Gates. It became a much richer human interest story as I worked on it.

When you’re learning about a company, when you’re gearing up to take on something like this, do you start out with just a stack of financial filings? How do you get to a point where you feel credible enough to start making calls?

Bethany McLean: I forged around in the dark for a while. Because after years of working in business journalism, I have enough sources who know things that I can call them up — in this case it was investors — and say, “Do you have somebody I can talk to about Microsoft, who can just help me really understand it?” Eventually you’re bound to hit upon one or two who do know something. They may not be willing to state to you on the record or to be quoted, but they can steer you in the right direction and give you a good overview of what the story actually is, and then you try to work your way in from there.

Analysts and institutional investors, that sort of thing — they are a source that people who haven’t been business journalists sometimes overlook. Those people can then offer a roadmap. Then you can read the 10-K, and the terms are familiar. That’s how I usually start.

I did not have preexisting ex-Microsoft sources, which makes it really challenging to call up somebody with the most sensitive question you could possibly ask: “Are Gates and Ballmer really having a feud?”

How do you get to that question?

Bethany McLean: I generally start with questions about the business. That offers a way into conversations that shows that you’re serious and you’re not just trying to write a hatchet job or a personality play. And I never do that as a pretext—it’s genuine. My stories always have kind of a business backbone to them. The analytical backdrop helps explain the human nature part of the story.

By doing that you meet them on the topics they care about. The business is what stresses out Ballmer and Gates, what they’re consumed by on a daily basis.

Bethany McLean: Right. People may not talk to you about their feelings about Steve Ballmer, but they may talk to you about their feelings about what Steve Ballmer did or didn’t do for Microsoft. Because the company matters a lot to a lot of people, right? It employs over a hundred thousand people. It’s made people immensely wealthy. It’s one of America’s great success stories. People care a great deal about what went wrong with the business.

Right. It’s a confessional, but it’s a confessional with an edge. How far in your reporting were you when you got these guys to be so candid?

Bethany McLean: You have to be a long way in. I genuinely believe that there is no way to get people to open up to you if you don’t know a lot already. I mean if you know the story already and you can say, “Well, this is what I know,” people are far more likely to say, “Well, that’s right or that’s wrong.” If you don’t even know enough to ask the questions, there’s no way people are going to help you.

There’s little element of serendipity in these things. If Ballmer had picked up the phone the first time I tried to get to him, I probably wouldn’t have asked as good of questions as I did by the time I did.

I have this basic rule about investigative journalism that people are either inclined to talk to you or they’re not. If they’re really inclined not to talk to you they’re really not going to. The little bit of wiggle room is knowing a little bit more. The people in the middle of the road can be convinced to talk to you because you know something.

I’m imagining spending hours trying to craft the perfect email to Ballmer. It sounds like you’re more fatalistic about the result.

Bethany McLean: Well, I spent an enormous amount of time on the email and I tried to be as thoughtful as I could be, but I am somewhat fatalistic about the result.

I feel like I am always dead honest. I would never say, “Well, of course, you’re going to like the story if you talk.” The absolute worst thing for me would be for anybody to say they were misled. I genuinely want to understand your point of view—I like nuance, I’m not a black-and-white person. I want to paint an accurate, nuanced picture of what actually happened rather than this black-and-white, good-guy-bad-guy thing. That tends to dominate when people don’t give their side of the story.

Of course, there’s a subtext, which is that if you don’t talk to me, it might go badly for you.

Bethany McLean: I’ve thought about that a lot recently and I try to stay away from that subtext.

I’m sure I have said that to people before. I’m sure I have used exactly that language. It was only hearing it, fed back to me through the ears of potential sources with other journalists who had said that to them that I thought I have said that before, and now I realize I was threatening them and I never thought of it that way before. So it’s something I’ve only recently come to that has made me change my tune.

You come off like a bully and you come off as sort of not ethical, and so I have started to think that I’m not going to say that. So I say instead, “I’ll do my best to be fair whether you talk to me or not. But if you talk to me, I think it’s going to help. I think then there won’t be any surprises for you and I think I’ll understand where you’re coming from.”

Right. I mean at the end of the day our stories are important, but they’re not—

Bethany McLean: Right, that’s the thing. Stories are important, but are they ever worth someone calling you up and saying you misled me or you lied to me? I mean never, right?

Tell us about Microsoft’s PR. They’re probably not super-jazzed about a story about how the Microsoft board is having a difficult time replacing its CEO. Did Microsoft try to kill this thing? Did you have a lot of contact with them from the beginning?

Bethany McLean: I did. At first they were very non-responsive. They became slowly more responsive over time as I tried to show that I was serious about doing a nuanced and fair piece. I think that they were great example of how to do PR in the sense that they realized the story was going to happen, and what made the most sense was to cooperate, because the new CEO Satya Nadella has a great story. They realized what was in their interests, and they did it. There was total fair play. I never felt like I was lied to. I think that it was actually sort of a model example of how to do PR in a weird way.

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