Lynn Brewer owes a debt to Sherron Watkins for the success of her post-Enron career.
Watkins wrote a memo to Enron CEO Ken Lay in August 2001 that predicted the company would "implode in a wave of accounting scandals."
When this memo was unearthed by congressional investigators in January 2002, Watkins was celebrated as one of the "good guys" at a corrupt company. She testified before Congress in February 2002.
In December of that year, she and two other women — Cynthia Cooper of WorldCom and the FBI's Colleen Rowley — were named Time magazine's Persons of the Year as a group of whistle-blowers.
Soon after Watkins' name was revealed, she heard from Brewer, who wanted to enlist her help in establishing an integrity institute that would give awards to deserving corporate executives. As Brewer told Watkins at the time and in a subsequent interview with USA TODAY, her goal after Enron's collapse into bankruptcy in December 2001 was to "create 15 years of impact out of 15 minutes of fame."
But in the preface to her book, Confessions of an Enron Executive, Brewer attacks Watkins, suggesting that she spoke up "only when her own financial security was in jeopardy."
And yet, Brewer — a 46-year-old blonde who bears a passing resemblance to the 48-year-old Watkins — has benefited from being mistaken for her. "From a competitive standpoint, we'd hope that all the time we're confused with her," Brewer says in an interview.
As an example, Watkins says that when Judge Mervyn King of South Africa was scheduled to speak alongside her in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, in March, Watkins introduced herself to him.
King informed Watkins that they'd already met several years earlier in South Africa. Watkins was puzzled, since the only time she'd been to South Africa was in 1998, when she worked for Enron. She soon realized that King had actually met Brewer when Brewer was on a speaking tour of South Africa in 2004.
Reached by telephone, King confirmed the story.
"A woman came to South Africa and held herself out to be the Enron whistle-blower or one of the whistle-blowers," King said of his meeting with Brewer.
"She gave speeches and approached me, asking if I would join an ethical institute she was establishing. I declined," he says. "My instinct told me that something didn't gel."
Brewer says that she was out speaking publicly about Enron well before Watkins was ever on the cover of Time magazine.