Lay founded Enron and changed the conservative natural gas pipeline into energy and trading giant. It was seventh on the Fortune 500 in 2000. Enron collapsed in a matter of weeks and went bankrupt in December 2001. Lay and former CEO Jeff Skilling were convicted of fraud and conspiracy in connection with the bankruptcy in May.
Lay was born in Tyrone, Missouri on April 15, 1942. His father ran a general store before becoming a minister. Lay helped his family meet ends by delivering newspapers and mowing lawns.
Lay earned degrees from the University of Missouri and the University of Houston. While his career was in business, Lay did serve in the Navy spending his time at the Pentagon. He also served as undersecretary for the Department of the Interior.
Lay's first job in business was with Humble Oil & Refining, which later became Exxon Mobil Corporation. Lay went on to be an executive at Florida Gas, followed by Transco Energy in Houston. He then became CEO of Houston Natural Gas.
Lay founded Enron in 1985 when Houston Natural Gas merged with Internorth in Omaha, Nebraska. He stepped down from the CEO position in February of 2001. He returned to that role after Jeff Skilling abruptly resigned in August of the same year. Enron filed for bankruptcy in December. When Congress investigated the collapse, several executives from Enron were called to testify. Lay invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
The Lay family was heavily involved in philanthropic efforts in Houston. He was also involved in sports with the new home of the Astros initially being named Enron Field. Since his conviction, some groups have debated what to do with donations received from the Lay family.
Lay was in Aspen, Colorado when he died.