Robert Benmosche, the colorful, self-described “in-your-face” CEO that brought insurance company AIG back from the brink of collapse (with a heavy assist from the Treasury, the Federal Reserve, and of course the American taxpayer), has announced his retirement. His resignation comes five years after taking over management in 2009, at the height of the financial crisis, when the insurer was bleeding money and angry taxpayers were threatening to strangle then-CEO Edward Liddy with piano wire.
Former MetLife CEO Benmosche immediately became famous for the hard line he took against AIG’s government benefactors (‘They may have big balls,” he told employees, at his inaugural meeting as CEO, “But my balls are bigger”) and the angry public, whom he later memorably compared to a Southern lynch mob.
There were many who expected him to resign much sooner: Benmosche was diagnosed with cancer in 2011, and over the course of his tenure, the CEO threatened to resign multiple times after the government, in their parsimony, gave him a hard time for vacationing at his Croatian villa two weeks after taking the high-profile job, the size of his salary and his insistence on taking a private flight to a family affair on the taxpayers’ dime. “I’m going to go and see my granddaughter, and I’m going to take that plane and shove it up your fucking ass,” Benmosche recalled he told the Treasury when interviewed by New York in 2012. “And everyone else’s ass. You are going to break my banana over this shit?”
Despite, or perhaps because of, all his antics, Benmosche was able to accomplish something that at one point seemed impossible. He rallied the troops, stemmed the panic, and coordinated with the government to minimize AIG’s losses, turning AIG back into a functioning — albeit still lumbering — concern. In his place, Benmosche has appointed his No. 2 deputy, Peter Hancock. That Hancock, a former JP Morgan executive, had a pivotal role in creating the very derivatives that nearly sunk AIG will no doubt be a talking point among pundits. Of course, Benmosche wouldn’t have it any other way.