America is unique in the world and I feel it is becoming less America-like, with those in leadership positions in America who are ignoring our Constitution and various American laws and American rights & freedoms, who are running the country into an un-American condition -- for their own personal greed and agendas, who lie to us -- the very people they are supposed to represent and take care of domestically and in the world.This is very puzzling to me because I don't know what Americas they are talking about. When was America the way they want it to be? If anything America is becoming less like America I came to because of their crazy ideas.
Mr. Greenberg hasn't dimmed, but he believes America has. "You couldn't build an AIG today," he explains. Overbearing regulators, new corporate governance rules, protectionism, a failing tort system, prosecutors unleashed--these, as he sees them, are the obstacles to corporate greatness. And Mr. Greenberg is uniquely positioned to know.
It isn't just that over 38 years he transformed a tiny operation into a global insurance empire currently valued at $169 billion, a feat that even detractors--and he has many--admit counts as one of the great corporate success stories. It's that Mr. Greenberg was front and center to witness how prosecutors, regulators and lawyers could bring that success to its knees, practically overnight. "Why is it that private equity is growing as fast as it is. . . . Why are public companies not doing as well? Once [a country] gets a reputation that way, once it loses momentum, it takes quite a while to regain it. It doesn't happen overnight," says Mr. Greenberg.
"One of the biggest problems" facing America's competitiveness at the moment "is regulation," he states. He notes the legislative fiasco that flowed out of Enron--Sarbanes-Oxley. "Any time you publish regulations in a crisis mode, you probably do it wrong," he says, and as proof he points to all the companies now listing in London rather than New York. "Friends don't let friends regulate in a crisis," he jokes.
Corporate governance changes alone would make a new AIG impossible. Mr. Greenberg notes that when AIG started, it had almost entirely an "inside" board, made up of senior partners deeply involved in the business. "And we obviously did something right because we became the largest insurance company in history." Today's intense focus on outsiders and independence limits the expertise. "A board of directors can't run a company. They can oversee a strategy, but they can't be involved day to day in a company, otherwise you get nothing done."
At least for now, Mr. Greenberg is sticking with his private companies, which he calls "more fun," since they allow him to "invest in the next generation of opportunities." He's eyeing China, which has a historical symmetry: Cornelius Vander Starr, his mentor, started his first insurance agency there in 1919. Mr. Greenberg just returned from a trip, "encouraged" by Beijing's new plans to boost per capita income (i.e., more people able to buy insurance) and set up a "social safety net." Anyone who believes "China will become an irritant or a problem in the international arena lacks an understanding of the immense issues they have to deal with at home." He also has a fondness for China, since "it's nice to go to a country where they don't pay as much attention to the headlines." Only, it seems, to the bottom line.
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