Bob Benmosche told Bloomberg Television’s Betty Liu that he decided to step down as CEO of American International Group (NYSE:AIG) earlier than he’d planned after his cancer worsened. Benmosche spoke with Liu during an interview at his home near Dubrovnik, Croatia, where he will spend his retirement. He said, “I knew that the cancer had begun massive mutations. I knew that there’s no drug yet on the market. I knew there were studies. And so I’m back – they reset the clock [in May] – nine months to a year.”
Bob Benmosche video and partial transcript below
Highlights from the interview are included below — tune into the full interview in September 24th as part of Bloomberg TV’s “Titans at the Table” special.
BETTY LIU: And did you feel at the time that you announced your retirement, “Look, I don’t really have another year,” not in terms of living but, “I don’t really have another year in me to stay on as CEO?”
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BOB BENMOSCHE: I knew that the cancer had begun massive mutations. I knew that there’s no drug yet on the market. I knew there were studies. And so I’m back – they reset the clock – nine months to a year.
LIU: They reset that clock when?
BENMOSCHE: For me, back in May.
BENMOSCHE: And the board and I met in April and we said, “Look, I think you need to do some major changes in the organization.” They were concerned about me changing the organization dramatically, and then we announced a new CEO. Give the new CEO a chance to do that. And I said, “That’s great.” We were thinking about first quarter of next year, and I said, “You know what? I’m not gonna play the odds. And I think the changes have to be made now not later. And so let’s accelerate my retirement.” And the board was happy to do that.
BENMOSCHE: I never was at a dark place. I felt the hardest thing is telling Denise, then telling my son and my daughter was very hard on me. But those are the things – and then close friends – to be able to say to them that, you know– “Unfortunately there’s gonna be a time frame here.” But let’s think about all the things we could celebrate of what we’ve already done. And so my first thoughts went to keeping them from going into a dark place. That’s why they all drive me nuts. “How are you feeling?” I’m feeling fine. “You sure?”
LIU: Was there a lot of that in the beginning?
BENMOSCHE: It hasn’t ended yet, Betty. (LAUGHTER) Everybody says, “How you feelin’?” I’m feelin’ great.
LIU: Does that get a little irritating after a while?
BENMOSCHE: Very irritating. You know, when somebody has a terminal illness, how do you think they feel? And if they feel a pain here or pain there, what good is it for them to tell you that, “I’m in pain and I need a pain killer,” or whatever? It’s what can we do to be doing exciting things? And so it’s about thinking of your life and enjoying your life until you don’t have a life.
BENMOSCHE: Everything is extending time. That’s all you – there’s no cure here. This is extending time. And I’m one of the extremes now of getting a benefit of the pill. Is it because I am working? Is it because I run and I exercise? Is it my attitude?
LIU: Well, what do you think it is?
BENMOSCHE: I think it’s all of that.
LIU: So you’ve beaten the odds already.
BENMOSCHE: I’ve already beaten the odds, but it stopped working. And so now I’m in another study group. Hopefully it will work. I had some very bad side effects for a while, but I’ve at least completed all of the things I set out to complete.
BENMOSCHE: They say I’m stable…Which is a big word because it wasn’t stable for the last six months. And I went through in a massive study on a new technology for about three or four months that did zero. So it actually set me back because the cancer was left unchecked for three or four months. So that’s where I ran into some difficulty on side effects. But right now they feel they’ve stabilized it and I’ll know in another month or two whether we’re making good progress or not.