AIG chief executive Robert Benmosche explains to the Financial Times how when he arrived at AIG the company’s moral had been completely broken.
Beaten up in the media, by government, on the street, and with key AIG figures gone, AIG needed backbone to prevent complete employee rout.
Maybe there’s a method to his madness.
“I felt that the way the people of AIG were vilified was wrong . . . when I meet people . . . and they tell me they were afraid to leave their children in their own homes, that their children were beaten up at school or embarrassed in classrooms, I think that’s wrong,” he says. “I was aggressive about that, because you can’t treat these people this way.”
It’s true that for the vast majority of AIG employees, who had nothing to do with the bad decisions which took down the company, it sucks to be hated for things you didn’t do. Nobody would come to their defence either, given that it was, and still is, political suicide. Thus AIG needed a strong leader to rally the troops.
He took a similarly uncompromising stance with the government, when he rowed with Kenneth Feinberg, the Obama administration’s “pay czar”, and told the authorities that a fire-sale of assets would destroy the company.
“They were basically saying, ‘let’s divest everything’,” he recalls. “The problem for me was that, if the sum of the parts is less than the whole, and the whole is what you need to pay back the government, it’s not going to work . . . So the strategy wasn’t nuts. What was nuts was the speed at which we were attempting to do it”.
Mr Benmosche argues that the reason for adopting a tough-guy demeanour was that he had to “galvanise” AIG’s troops, who had been suffering defeat after defeat.