Titan AIG (AIG) Brought To Its Knees

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Hank Greenberg, former chief of AIG (AIG), still walks the avenues of Wall St. at night, plotting how to get his old job back. He has been in a series of disputes with the company since he was asked to leave. Under Greenberg, the company did remarkably well for decades.

AIG is a bit like Citigroup(C). Both were built by larger-than-life executives. At Citi that was Sandy Weill. He was also pushed out.

The two men come from a time when the top tier of the financial industry was Citi, AIG, and Goldman Sachs (GS). AIG made money in the insurance business. Citi minted money in banking. No one was sure how Goldman made its lucre, but its traders almost always made the right guess on market moves. Goldman never had one CEO for long. The place had a tradition of seeing its best people go into jobs like Secretary of the Treasury.

AIG said it lost $7.8 billion in its last quarter and would raise $12.5 billion to make up for that. It made the senseless gesture of raising its dividend. Much of the losses for the period came from paper based on mortgages. It that regard, it can join Citi, Merrill Lynch (MER), Morgan Stanley (MS) and a number of other Wall St. institutions.

Greenberg and Weill now spend their time giving hundreds of million of dollars to hospitals and other charities. Their names will live on because they are carved over the entrances of the buildings that their money erected.

But, they will be remembered, and remembered badly, for running their companies like banana republics and never training outstanding people to take their places. Instead, dupes like Chuck Prince got their jobs and ran revered institutions into the ground.

No one will ever know if Weill and Greenberg would have managed the current environment better, but the history of Wall St. will mark down that they left their companies to people who did not have the sense to avoid the most tempting of risks, easy money. Too easy.

Douglas A. McIntyre