Benmosche was so notoriously frugal that soon after they got married, his wife Denise granted him a divorce just to avoid unfavorable tax laws. “We were in the hotel in Santo Domingo, and I said, ‘Oh, look, honey, we can get a divorce for $400,’ ” she says. “I knew if we didn’t go through with it, he would be so angry come April 15.” Benmosche pulls a sitcom-husband face. They remarried the following year, although for the past ten they’ve had what he calls an “off-and-on relationship” that seems, at least in Croatia, to be mostly on. Still, Denise lives in Manhattan, while Benmosche, who has various “female companions,” lives mainly in tax-friendly Boca Raton. I’m wondering how rude it would be to ask if finances had anything to do with their not getting a second divorce when Benmosche comes up with an anecdote he says describes his “philosophy of life,” from when he was driving the Coke truck back in high school. “Senior year, they call to tell me they cut my commission,” he says. “I was working at the hotel, so I said, ‘Eh, you know, I’m not gonna take the job then.’ They were shocked. They said, ‘What do you mean?’ I said, ‘I’m not doing the job for that kind of pay.’ So within five days I get a phone call. ‘Okay, you win. We’ll pay you what we paid you last year. Please, you gotta come back.’ So I go back and I’m working all day, no break. All of a sudden one day, there’s a heavyset guy in the yard.”
It was a member of the union, telling him that he had to join.
“I said, ‘Actually, I don’t believe in joining the union,’ and I go to get in the truck. He says— ‘Until you sign the papers, this truck ain’t leaving.’ And he stands behind the truck. He says, ‘We’re here to protect the workers.’ I lost it. I said, Where the fuck were you three weeks ago?!’ He’s still standing there. I’m screaming at him I get in my truck. He jumped out of the way, inches before I hit him. Thank God I didn’t kill the guy. Never came back. So,” he finishes. “When you think about the bonuses—I made more money because I worked harder. First one out, last one in, always selling another case.”
He chuckles softly to himself. “I still think about it,” he says. “I still say to myself, That’s wrong!”
That he almost ran the guy over?
Benmosche looks surprised. “That he wanted me to join the union.”
Fortunately for Ken Feinberg, the government-appointed “pay czar,” Benmosche no longer had a truck. The two already knew one another from Benmosche’s days at MetLife, and Feinberg was one of the first people Benmosche called when he agreed to take the job at AIG. “ ‘You have to promise me you won’t fuck it up,’ I told him,” Benmosche says. “And he says to me, ‘I won’t, Robert!’ in his little Boston Jewish-kid voice.”
By the fall, Benmosche had not received approval for his pay package or that of his top executives, and he was beginning to feel aggrieved. Compounding his irritation was a battle he was fighting with Treasury over his use of the corporate jet. After the Great Auto CEO Debacle of 2008, the government had put its foot down on private-jet use by CEOs of TARP-supported companies, and when these onerous restrictions threatened to thwart his ability to make his granddaughter’s birthday party in Chicago, he exploded. “I said to Jim, ‘Here is the deal,’ ” he recalls. “ ‘I’m going to go and see my granddaughter, and I’m going to take that plane and shove it up your fucking ass. And everyone else’s ass. You are going to break my banana over this shit?’ ”
When Feinberg finally came back to him with a plan that dictated, among other things, that AIG slash salaries by 91 percent for its top dozen executives and pay all bonuses in stock, Benmosche called him, pissed. “You said you weren’t going to fuck it up,” he yelled. “And you are fucking it up!” PricewaterhouseCoopers, he told him, was threatening to sound alarms over the company’s inability to retain employees, and now four key people were threatening to walk. “He said, ‘Robert! I am not your problem.’ I said, ‘Ken, you are the pay czar.’ And he said, ‘I am telling you I am not your problem. Figure it out.’ ”
Benmosche took this to mean that, as he puts it, “something sinister” was going on at Treasury. Someone wanted to see him humbled. Well, Benmosche was having none of that. In a board meeting in early November, he laid down his trump card. “I’m done,” he told them.