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Robert Benmosche ( 1944 - )  Category ( Businessmen_Women ) [suggest a correction]
 

Robert Benmosche must feel a little like a newly promoted captain on the Titanic.

The company he was chosen to head, American International Group (AIG), has become among the most reviled corporate entities in the history of American business. And there is some question whether the former MetLife board chairman was brought on board to revive AIG or dismantle it.

The public relations problem, in a word, has been "bonuses." Despite foundering in the turbulent economic waters of 2009 and requesting a government life preserver, AIG became a symbol of corporate greed by dishing out large payout checks to high-ranking employees leaving the sinking ship. Everyone from Barack Obama to Jay Leno piled on as the criticsm escalated.

Even when Edward Liddy came out of retirement to run the company for $1 a year, he exacerbated the image problem with more bonuses.

Benmosach, 65, came to AIG after retiring as board chairman and chief executive at Met Life. There, according to former co-workers, he ran a tight ship as he took the company public. One industry analyst credited him with instilling "a lot of financial discipline."

Certainly, that's something badly needed at AIG. Benmosch's first problem, however, was his own compensation. Unlike Liddy, he took the job for considerably more than a dollar -- $7 million of them, in fact.  It remains to be seen if that will fly with the government reorganization “czar."

Benmosch was born in New York City and grew up in Monticello, a placid Catskills town where his parents ran a motel. His father died at the age of 50, however, leaving the family to struggle out of debt. Benmosch raised part of his tuition at Alfred University by driving a Coca Cola truck.

After college, Benmosch served for two years as an Army liutenant, including a tour in Vietnam and more time as a communications specialist in Korea. After his discharge, he worked for Arthur D. Little and Information Science before becoming vice president of technology at Chase Manhattan Bank.

In 1982, Benmosch joined Paine-Webber, bringing technology to bear on what he saw as an inefficient brokerage system. His success there earned him a position with MetLife in 1995, where he rose to the top position in three years.

Along the way, Benmosch became known as a tough boss who expected results.

"You love him," one co-worker told Business Week, "or you don't like him at all."

At MetLife, Benmosch even demoted Snoopy, the lovable Peanuts dog who had become the firm’s advertising symbol.

“I felt it was too much Snoopy,” he told the New York Times. “When you talk about MetLife, you say, ‘That’s Snoopy’s company.’”

Snoopy was replaced by Met Life agents talking about their jobs.


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