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Sins of the Son


In Hank’s view, the family was an inviolable social unit. The Greenbergs always vacationed together, whether at the AIG-owned resort in Stowe, Vermont, or at the Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, where Hank owned a modest-size boat. Weekend activities consisted of games of tennis among family members or family ski outings, in which the atmosphere was invariably tense. “If you played tennis, you played tennis,” recalls Abouzeid. “I didn’t really enjoy it; it was too competitive. They’re all very serious.”

AIG, too, was an extension of the family. Company Christmas parties were family affairs, and Hank made a point of getting to know the names of all the executives’ children, who were strongly encouraged to follow their fathers into AIG management. “Hank was at my sister’s wedding, and I remember him coming up and saying, ‘So, when are you starting with us?’ ” says Abouzeid. “I looked at him straight in the eyes and said, ‘Sir, that’s not going to happen.’ He just kind of smiled.” And, of course, Hank envisioned his own sons sitting at the top of the organizational chart. “The whole thing from their father while they were growing up was, ‘You’re going to take over this some day,’ ” says Finke.

Since at least their teenage years, Jeff and Evan found themselves playing out what seemed like biblically assigned roles: Jeff was the dutiful son, determined to please his demanding father. Jeff parroted his father’s conservative political views and was desperate to impress the older man with his studied knowledge of foreign affairs. Invariably, Hank would be dismissive. “His father would treat him like, ‘You don’t know anything. Don’t even try to compete with my knowledge,’ ” says Finke. “No matter what Jeff did, according to his father he couldn’t hold a candle to anything Hank had done.” Finke remembers Jeff being paralyzed with fear that his father might pull him out of school after a disappointing first semester at Brown.

Evan, by contrast, was the rebel—as if, after watching Jeff, he concluded that there was little he could do to please Hank and therefore wouldn’t try. Evan acted up in school, showed up haphazardly for family events, dated older women, and generally drove his parents to distraction. “There was never a meal where they didn’t wring their hands about Evan—especially when he wasn’t there,” says Finke. And Jeff, who resented the amount of attention Evan got for doing nothing but screw up, unfailingly took his parents’ side. But according to Finke, for all of Hank’s ranting about Evan, there was a part of the old man that seemed to admire the kid’s guts. “Hank was not used to anybody defying him,” says Finke. “Evan did. In a bizarre way, Hank had a grudging respect for Evan.”

After college, Jeff headed to Georgetown law school, and then to a management job at Marsh & McLennan. But college wasn’t in the cards for Evan. He left home on a hitchhiking tour of the country, stopping from time to time to make a few bucks as a cook or a bartender. Evan eventually surfaced in Denver, where Hank quietly arranged for an AIG associate named Carl Barton to offer him a job. Evan accepted when Barton promised not to out him to his new colleagues as Hank Greenberg’s son.

Jeff moved from Marsh & McLennan to AIG’s London office in 1978, after constant nagging from his father (“When are you going to stop this nonsense and come to work for me?” Hank would ask), by which point Evan was back in New York working at the company’s headquarters. Jeff was on the management track, while Evan toiled away at lower-level jobs. But there was a connection developing between Evan and Hank, which stemmed partly from Evan’s physical proximity to his father and partly from Evan’s surprising knack for the insurance business.

Jeff, of course, was highly dismissive of his brother. When Evan’s name came up in conversation, Jeff would take a kind of “Oh, yeah, my brother the insurance expert” tone. But Jeff’s inability to distinguish himself in his father’s eyes, combined with the attention lavished on his younger brother, created a constant need for approval, which he sought in other places. At Brown, Jeff joined a nonexclusive fraternity, where he was looked up to, and when he lived in London, he hung out with a circle of “hooray Henrys”—well-bred underachievers who’d landed jobs through family connections.

There was another side to Jeff: He had a weakness for certain status objects. He drove an Alfa Romeo (that was the car he’d worked menial jobs to save for), his wardrobe was Paul Stuart, his watches were always Rolex. Socially, too, there were strains of self-loathing. Finke recalls that Jeff mentioned encountering mild anti-Semitism at Choate in the sixties. She believes one of the things that attracted him to her was her “Waspy Jew” appearance and private-school pedigree. When she came out as a debutante, Jeff insisted on being her escort.

These hang-ups may have even influenced Jeff’s choice of career. In the immediate postwar era, and as late as the sixties, the prestigious investment banks and law firms were still relatively closed to white ethnics. Talented, ambitious Jews like Hank Greenberg, who’d grown up working-class and had attended no-name schools, found the insurance industry somewhat more welcoming. There was more yelling, less formality. In beginning his career at Marsh & McLennan—which, as a brokerage, tended to be more white-collar—Jeff would have been able to break with his father not only professionally but also temperamentally and sociologically.

Several months ago, long before Eliot Spitzer unveiled his case against Marsh & McLennan, I went to the eighteenth floor of AIG’s Pine Street headquarters to interview Hank. The sitting room outside Hank’s office is heavy on wood trim and Chinese paraphernalia—vases, silks, photographs of Hank with Chinese leaders. I’m seated on a plush, reddish-orange couch, which I can’t help but feel is designed to swallow me up, while Hank fields my questions.

When Hank makes his way out of his office some ten minutes later, he doesn’t seem especially intimidating. He stands about five foot seven, lean, tanned, amazingly well-preserved—more like a man in his mid-sixties than his late seventies. He is jacketless and wearing a plain powder-blue shirt and gray slacks.

To break the ice, I ask a long (and, truth be told, rambling) question about his management style. Pretty soon I have an inkling of the survivors’ bond that must exist among the thousands of AIG executives who’ve worked for Hank over the years:

“Have you ever managed anything?” Hank snaps.

“Um, no.”

“What makes you think you have the right to question how I run this company?”

“I don’t think I have the right—”

“I don’t think so either. We have a capitalization of about $180 billion . . . Let me explain a couple of things to you. Because you are obviously not a student of management . . . ”

It occurs to me at this point that Hank looks and sounds a lot like Ben Gazzara.

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