HOUSTON, Jan. 24 (UPI) -- Kenneth L. Lay was ousted Wednesday as chairman and chief executive officer of Enron Corp., the company that he spent 15 years building into the world's largest energy trader only to see it slide into bankruptcy.
Lay, 59, said he resigned after talks with Enron's board and the 15-member creditors' committee selected as part of Enron's bankruptcy proceedings. He will remain a director of the company.
"I want to see Enron survive, and for that to happen we need someone at the helm who can focus 100 percent of his efforts on reorganizing the company and preserving value for our creditors and hard-working employees," Lay said in a statement.
Enron spokesman Vance Meyer told United Press International it is searching for a turnaround specialist to assist Enron with its efforts to emerge from bankruptcy.
"We are going to be aggressive in our search for an interim chief executive officer," said Meyer. "The person will focus on restructuring the company so that we can emerge from Chapter 11 in as short of a time as possible."
Once the nation's seventh-largest company, the Houston-based firm now holds the dubious distinction of having filed the largest-ever bankruptcy.
Enron filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on Dec. 2, about six weeks after the company announced a discrepancy in accounts. In its filing, Enron listed more than $50 billion in assets and more and $31 billion in debts.
As a result thousands of workers lost their jobs and their 401-K accounts, which were invested mainly in company stock.
Lay has been named in about 50 lawsuits, and several congressional committees, the Justice and Labor departments and the Securities and Exchange Commission are investigating his company's decline.
He is expected to testify before two congressional committees on Feb. 4.
Despite his company's many troubles Lay kept his position. But that became harder to do in the last few weeks with increasingly damaging revelations, including when he warned a company vice president in August of a possible corporate implosion if details of the off-balance-sheet transactions became known.
He also was touting the stock to employees in September, shortly before Enron announced its worst quarter ever.
Lay was named chairman and chief executive officer of Enron Corp. in 1986, a year after the company formed from the merger of Houston Natural gas and InterNorth Inc.
He had previously been the chairman chief executive officer of Houston Natural Gas and president of Continental Resources Co. He began his career as an economist with Exxon.
A personal friend of President Bush, he served as chairman of the Houston Host Committee for the 1992 Republican National Convention.