Does This Man Deserve Credit for AIG's Turnaround

Robert Benmosche came in as the AIG CEO, out of retirement, to turn the ship around.

Jul 25, 2014 at 7:00AM

In a matter of a few years, AIG went from worldwide insurance-leader to the brink of bankruptcy. Robert Benmosche came in as the AIG CEO, out of retirement, to turn the ship around. It's now been announced that he's leaving later this year and going back to being retired; was his time at AIG a success?

To find some answers, Motley Fool analyst David Hanson recently sat down with Larry Cunningham, the author of The Essays of Warren Buffett: Lessons for Corporate AmericaWarren Buffett himself said of the book, "Larry Cunningham has done a great job at collating our philosophy." Cunningham contributed on former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg's book The AIG Story. In the following video, Cunningham gives his thoughts on AIG's turnaround and how Benmosche handled the challenge. 

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A full transcript follows.

Hanson: Moving from Berkshire, which has had that long history and permanence of the values, to a company that had a long history of a strong culture, strong values, but then saw that all wash away in late 2008/2007 -- and that's AIG.

I mentioned at the top that you worked on the book The AIG Story, with Hank Greenberg, the former CEO of AIG. In that book, you detailed how AIG was turned into this world-class insurance company, and then after Mr. Greenberg left it fell into some very bad habits, which led to the bailout, etc.

I just wanted to get your quick thoughts on where AIG is today and -- we've been talking about leadership our whole conversation here -- Robert Benmosche came in as the AIG CEO, out of retirement, to turn the ship around. It's now been announced that he's leaving later this year and going back to being retired; what did you think of his time at AIG?

Cunningham: I think he did exactly what he was called upon to do. He's a great man. I met him and I interviewed him for The AIG Story book. Hank Greenberg helped recruit him back. Tim Geithner asked Hank, "Who should we recruit to lead this company through this difficult time?"

Hank endorsed Bob, and I think his job was to stabilize an institution in trouble, that had been through the bailout wringer and had the devastating derivative losses that preceded that.

The cultural upheaval that occurred when Hank Greenberg resigned -- under pressure from investigators over some accounting peculiarities that turned out to be far less than they were made out to be -- but there was a huge upheaval at that company after Hank left, after derivatives exploded, and after the government bailed them out, that Bob was asked to try to corral, control, and stabilize. And he did that.

It's a very different company now. A part of what he did was sell off a lot of different assets, including some very valuable businesses that had been built up over 20-30 years across Asia. I think he did the job he was recruited to do, which was really to make that company a stodgier company, a trimmer company. I think he deserves a lot of credit for that. He leaves it much stronger than he found it, and he probably deserves the retirement. I think he's going back to Croatia now.

David Hanson owns shares of American International Group and Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool recommends American International Group and Berkshire Hathaway. The Motley Fool owns shares of American International Group and Berkshire Hathaway and has the following options: long January 2016 $30 calls on American International Group. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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