Stephen Foley: The end of a petty quest for revenge

US Outlook: The fact that Hank Greenberg is getting back a Persian rug and some photos of him meeting Chinese leaders, as part of his ceasefire with AIG, tells you all you need to know about the insurance industry's most pathetic feud.

Their legal settlement stipulates that AIG must no longer be "disparaging" of its former chief executive. So allow me.

The pettiness with which Mr Greenberg has pursued revenge on the insurer that ousted him in 2005 has irreparably tarnished his reputation. It was galling enough to watch AIG having to take him so seriously in the years before its collapse; since the insurer was nationalised in last year's financial panic, his continued haunting of the company has been beyond the pale. Infuriatingly, AIG is going to pick up Mr Greenberg's $150m legal bill, using money which by rights should be diverted to the US taxpayer, to which AIG is in hock to the tune of $180bn.

At 84, Mr Greenberg is super-humanly fit and as competitive as ever. He plays tennis, lifts weights and speaks in military metaphors, as befits someone whose own service included taking part in the D-Day landings. He ran AIG as a dictatorship. Such aggression can take you so far – very far, he proves – but it can also unhinge you.

There's no quibbling with Mr Greenberg's mammoth achievement in 45 years, turning AIG from an unknown Asia-focused insurer into the largest on the planet. I understand, too, why some people feel he was hard done by when, at the height of Eliot Spitzer's campaign against Wall Street, he was forced out amid a $2bn accounting scandal for which he was ultimately never charged with criminal wrongdoing. He did pay $15m this year to settle the remaining minor civil case with the Securities and Exchange Commission, though, and did so with his usual bad grace, arguing most of the accounting restatements had been unnecessary.

Mr Greenberg's campaign of revenge against the board that voted to oust him, his public rubbishing of his successor, Martin Sullivan (who he anointed), and his legal campaign for compensation were unbecoming of the insurance industry's elder statesman.

The two sides fought over the ownership of boardroom trinkets, such as the rug and artworks. He sued when the share price went down, claiming management misled him. There were tit-for-tat suits over the ownership of $4.3bn in AIG shares. To call him a "distraction" isn't the half of it.

While AIG's credit derivatives insurance business was spinning out of control, managers had to spend time and money dealing with Mr Greenberg's interventions. He repeatedly signalled to journalists that he would launch a shareholder vote to take back control of the company, but never did. Ludicrously, at the height of last year's panic, when AIG was already done for and negotiating its government bailout, he emailed the company to suggest he buy it.

Mr Greenberg has behaved since last year as if the collapse of AIG is vindication for him, proving he shouldn't have been let go. I can't count the times that I have heard investors, analysts and writers assert that the firm would be a picture of health today under his continued leadership and before Congress this spring, he claimed he would never have allowed the financial products group to swell to such a size.

There's no way to know, of course, but I am sceptical. In three years of whingeing about the management of AIG after his ouster, I can't find any sign of Mr Greenberg having raised that particular alarm. He never hedged any of those toxic credit default swap positions when he was at the helm, what's to make us think he would have started? When in the spring he was warning of a "crisis" at the company, he spent as much time talking about the management of the general insurance businesses he knows best.

No doubt this week's settlement has been possible because Bob Benmosche, AIG's latest chief executive and an aggressive character in the Greenberg mould, has been better at massaging the billionaire's enormous ego. It is undoubtedly the right thing to have done, but it leaves a horrible taste in the mouth all the same.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Senior BA - Motor and Home Insurance

£400 - £450 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: **URGENT CONTRACT ROLE**...

Market Risk & Control Manager

Up to £100k or £450p/d: Saxton Leigh: My client is a leading commodities tradi...

SQL Developer - Watford/NW London - £320 - £330 p/d - 6 months

£320 - £330 per day: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group have been engaged by a l...

Head of Audit

To £75,000 + Pension + Benefits + Bonus: Saxton Leigh: My client is looking f...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam