Schadenfreude

14 10 2008

An interesting column in the NY Times about people rejoicing in the unhappiness of others. In this case it isn’t you and I and our concern about our jobs and our bank accounts, our retirement and our 401(k), the joy and glee is in the demise of the once great and wealthy who have been instrumental in bringing on this economic crisis. In specific he mentions Hank Greenberg’s fortune plummeting from $15.8 billion to $911 million.

On balance, Mr. Greenberg developed his fortune over 40 years of leading the insurance company AIG from being relative average to a position of leadership in the industry. After the board forced him into a position in a backwater in the company they began investing in the sub-prime market – over his strenuous and sometimes public objections. So, much as we might enjoy seeing some of these fat cats being reduced to dining on cat food with the rest of us, Hank Greenberg’s reduction to comparative poverty is the fault of others.

Yes, you could make arguments that he could have moved his fortune to other investment tools, and indeed you would be right. But a man who spent his life building a company has a hard time leaving it.

You could also argue that if he felt the board was acting improperly he could have voted his displeasure with his pocketbook, and again you would be right.

But you also have to admire a guy who stands with his people, and falls with his people. And when his fortune imploded, he complained not about his own fortune, but for the losses his people suffered.

DISCLAIMER: I really have nothing to disclaim: I have never worked for AIG or any of its subsidiaries, nor am I related to the Greenbergs.

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One response

14 10 2008
Allen Taylor

Nice writing. You are on my RSS reader now so I can read more from you down the road.

Allen Taylor

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