AIG CEO Robert Benmosche talks with Neil Cavuto about former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg’s lawsuit against the United States over the insurer’s bailout and about his battle with cancer. This is a preview of an interview to appear tonight on FOX Business Network’s (FBN) Cavuto (8PM/ET). Benmosche discusses whether he still has cancer, saying, “They can’t detect it right now. I don’t say what it is because I won’t let you decide when I am going to die. I am going to let the doctors tell me when it’s going to occur.”
He also addresses why he has chosen not to join former American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) CEO Hank Greenberg in his lawsuit and says, “The fact is that people want this crisis behind them. We want it behind us. We need to move forward.”
Excerpts from the interview are below:
On whether he still has cancer:
“They can’t detect it right now. I don’t say what it is because I won’t let you decide when I am going to die. I am going to let the doctors tell me when it’s going to occur… I am feeling fine, I am unlucky to have cancer – lucky that my cancer is matching the therapy. I have great doctors and they have been able to keep me going, so my cancer is somewhat less than what I started.”
On speculation from the media that his cancer battle resembled that of former Apple CEO Steve Jobs’ where the public was unsure how sick he was:
“I think some of the articles that came out – one in particular from The Wall Street Journal– was tough on my family because it was basically saying you got cancer it’s going to be awkward, why put people in that position.”
On whether he was told that his illness was life-threating:
“I was given 9 months to a year to live, so I knew I had until May until I start showing real bad effects and I knew I had to work with the board on succession and I needed to have an appropriate exit, so that this could continue because I felt like what I started needed to be finished and the last thing I wanted for my family and my children and for the people I love to be able to say what a shame he got that close and he didn’t see it done and it unraveled and I wonder if he was right in the beginning. I wanted a very clean exit that says you know we got it done. We are in a great place this company will make it, the people will continue to have their jobs and careers because this not only about me.”
On his current diagnosis:
“The diagnosis now is that I am doing well and enjoying life until we tell you it’s starting to affect you again, so they don’t know this is so experimental, they don’t know enough. I just live every day and enjoy myself and have a lot of fun and make sure that I smell the roses. My grandmother used to say to us give me my roses when I can smell them.”
On whether he ever wanted to quit because of his illness:
“Absolutely not, because I started something and I wanted to see it to a good spot. We hadn’t quite closed with the Federal Reserve yet, we were just about to do that transaction. I committed to people, I wanted to do it, and look you have to live every day until you can’t, so I was in a job, loving what I was doing. My family and I spent a good time together, and so I wanted to see it get completed.”
On why he has chosen not to join former AIG CEO Hank Greenberg in his lawsuit against the United States over the insurer’s bailout:
“We went through a very careful analysis and what is sad about the events that occurred during the time we had to make a decision was the press — and no offense, you’re part of it– instead of asking why would AIG, after getting the support it got, working so hard to pay back America, thank America, why would they then turn around and sue the government? That was the P.R. box. And that’s unfortunate. And I think some people are angry about the fact that we gave due consideration to a court order who said to American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG), you must make a decision of whether you want the derivative action to continue in the name of AIG.
And so the board was required to look at the lawsuit, understand whether it should be conducted in AIG’s behalf, for the benefit of AIG’s current — I stress current — shareholders. Remember, 92 percent of the shares of American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG) were recently sold by the United States to new shareholders.
And so this board of directors had to take the time to understand the claims, understand the legal issues, understand where Hank was coming from in his lawsuit, and then make a judgment, is this in the best interests of the current shareholders? That was required upon AIG to do that. We concluded that this is not in the best interests of the current shareholders because of the legal advice we received, after careful thought. And it basically talked about the argument, the probability of the argument winning, the amount of damages that could occur. But it doesn’t mean the judge has said what’s going to happen in the end.
And the board concluded that the disruption to our current company and the clients and everything else and so on, was not in the best interests of current shareholders. We need to move this company forward. And while Hank, I think, has some very good arguments, I think has some very good arguments in that case, as he’s, I’m sure, talked to you about, the fact is that we don’t think it’s in the best interests of our current shareholders to be involved in it… He has a unique argument …The fact is that people want this crisis behind them. We want it behind us. We need to move forward. Remember, you know, we do business with 97 percent of the Fortune 1000. The issue has become what could this possibly be and why would it make sense? And the fact is, when you add it all together…I think that if Hank can get $55 billion, God bless.”
On whether Greenberg has personally called him to pitch him:
“He had an opportunity to talk to the entire board. His lawyers made a decision not to be part of the lawsuit with him right there. He listened. He appreciated the thoughtfulness of it and is concerned and is going to proceed, and which he is. Hank has made it clear to me and everyone else that the deal that was cut for AIG was different than the deals offered others later on…I go back to the crisis. Most things I agree with Hank about, most things we see eye-to-eye on how to approach things, I went to him in the beginning after I decided to take this job to make sure he was comfortable with what I was going to do because I think he’s got a tremendous amount of insight.
He believes that AIG could have failed and it’s not too big to fail and it wasn’t systemically important. I believe he’s absolutely wrong. The fact is the world was in crisis, the fact is AIG if it was allowed to use bankruptcy to shield itself during this crisis, might have been better for the shareholders at that time, that’s his argument, except the world wouldn’t be here today and he doesn’t see that.”
On the financial situation in Cyprus:
“I think what happened was very disappointing, an enormous amount of effort and money and resources went in to preserving the sanctity of a deposit in a bank – it’s been a problem for many centuries as we think about banks and depositors. This go around and this crisis that was made sure of including I think extra work done on the heart of the government to protect money markets which I think are high risk more than people realize, but they are considered to be deposits. So therefore the government had to make absolutely sure those money markets were protected from a principle point of view.
What happened yesterday says that maybe deposits aren’t protected and I think that’s one thing that is a disaster because we must make sure any depositor of a certain size knows that that money is guaranteed by the government and the world and the financial system.”