The AIG Story: A book review by Bob Morris

AIG StoryThe AIG Story
Maurice R. Greenberg and Lawrence Cunningham
John Wiley & Sons (2013)

A “story” whose complexity defies pure objectivity but one that comes about as close as one could to explaining what happened

Although two co-authors are identified, Maurice R. (“Hank”) Greenberg provides what would normally be (or at least be viewed as) memoir material for which Lawrence A. Cunningham then created a context, a frame-of-reference, that draws upon Greenberg’s contributions, of course, but also those from dozens of other sources. Cunningham seems to have made every possible effort to remain objective. He devised the structure, conducted countless interviews, and drafted the story’s narrative. The book is research-driven (check out the “Notes,” Pages 265-308) and, as Cunningham notes, “told in the third person. But it is very much Greenberg’s story and a personal one at that.” I view Cunningham’s role primarily as that of a research scholar who “sets the table” with a wealth of historical material in combination with personal accounts provided by Greenberg, of course, but also from other knowledgeable sources, identified within 43 pages of annotated notes.

The focus of the narrative is on the evolution of Greenberg’s career from 1952 (at age 27) after returning from service as an officer in the U.S. Army until 2011 when he has embarked on new adventures in the vineyards of free enterprise, building (rebuilding?) C.V. Starr & Company and Starr International Company (SICO) together with several subsidiaries that pre-date AIG. Appropriately, the focus of most of the book is on Greenberg’s years at American International Group (AIG), especially during the last decade when internal power plays led to his forced retirement. Also in the same year (2005), then New York Attorney General, Eliot Spitzer made heavily-publicized allegations concerning accounting improprieties. However, revealingly, no criminal charges were ever brought and most of the civil charges were dropped.

Had there been an opportunity, I would have liked to meet with Greenberg and ask him a number of questions that would help me understand what interests me most about his life and career:

o Why he went to work for AIG’s founder, Cornelius Vander Starr, as the head of AIG’s failing North American holdings.
0 Why he achieved so much success that after several promotions, Starr named him as his successor
o His relationships with other senior-level executives at AIG, many of them rivals
o Why he created AIG (e.g. specific objectives, strategies, and resource allocation)
o How he explains AIG’s unsurpassed success in terms of market dominance, product development, sales, and profits
o The most significant differences between AIG and its major competitors
o The proper role of the federal government and, especially, its regulatory agencies
o Indications (i.e. “early-warning signs”) of problems with at least some board members
o Indications (i.e. “early-warning signs”) of problems with at least some C-level executives at AIG
o AG Spitzer’s motives and how he (Greenberg) explains them
o The nature and extent of AIG’s financial problems at the time of Greenberg’s “retirement”
o Over the years, the best and worse of AIG’s relationship with the federal government
o What he knew in 2005 that he wished he knew when Starr named him his successor in 1968
o The most valuable business lessons he has learned during the last 50 years
o The extent to which he expects those lessons to help him and his associates achieve the goals they have now

The “story” provided in this volume either provides all the information I hoped to have or at least, no small achievement, has enabled me to formulate reasonable assumptions and (yes) a few tentative conclusions about much of what has and hasn’t happened in Maurice R. (“Hank”) Greenberg’s life and career thus far. Lawrence Cunningham acknowledges that at least some questions remain unanswered or only partially answered, as they always do. He tells a compelling story whose complexity defies pure objectivity but, thanks to his rigorous and meticulous stewardship, a story that probably comes about as close as one could to explaining what really happened.

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