Janesville14.6°

Doing better all the time

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Rick Horowitz
March 3, 2009

I don’t want to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but I thought you ought to know: In the last quarter of 2008, I outperformed AIG by $61 billion.


Absolutely true. In this corner, one of the world’s great insurance giants, with tentacles reaching across continents, across oceans. In this other corner, me.


And I kicked their butts. In just three short months—October, November, December—my bottom line was $61 billion better than theirs was.


Actually, it was $61.7 billion better, if you want to be precise about it. (When it comes to business, I’ve always tried to be precise about it.)


You’re impressed. I can tell that you’re impressed. But even more than impressed, you’re curious. You’re unaccustomed to seeing anyone rack up those kinds of numbers, let alone someone who makes his living stringing words together. Perhaps you’ve even had dreams of living the high life yourself, and suddenly, you see me as some kind of role model.


“How did you do it?”


That’s what you’re desperate to find out: How did I do it?


A perfectly legitimate question. It deserves a perfectly legitimate answer.


I had plenty of help. There—I said it.


It’s tempting, I know, to claim that it was all my doing. That my superb judgment, my superior business acumen, my sixth sense for the ebbs and flows of markets were all it took to elevate me high above the likes of the renowned and respected American International Group.


But even with all my advantages, my enormous success was still something of a surprise to me. I’ll be honest with you: Had you told me a year ago, or even six months ago, that AIG would be eating my dust—billions and billions worth of dust—I’d have been skeptical. Cautious. “Underpromise, and overdeliver”—that’s always been my motto.


And while I might have suspected that my numbers for 2008 were starting to look better than certain prominent multinationals I could name, even I wouldn’t have believed the gap would be quite that wide.


There’s no arguing with the facts, though. That’s the great thing about business—it’s all right there in black and white. And the latest reports from AIG have laid it out in stunning detail: I was ahead—way ahead—and with every passing day I was pulling even farther ahead.


But like I said, it wasn’t all my doing. While I concentrated on my core businesses, certain other companies found themselves overextended and stretched too thin when the inevitable downturn came. My business plan, unlike some other companies’ business plans, didn’t include risky—no, catastrophic—bets on high-stakes derivatives and similar exotica. And while some of my assets may have grown dusty, they never turned toxic. It made all the difference.

So while it would be satisfying to grab the lion’s share of the credit, it wouldn’t be right. Without the contributions of dozens of other people, people I’ve never met—and I’m referring, of course, to the executives and board members of AIG itself—none of this would have been possible. It was the decisions they made, the warnings they ignored, that paved the way for me to be standing here before you today with a balance sheet that puts most of Wall Street to shame.


But I’m not resting on my laurels. They say dreamers never stop dreaming, and I’ve already set my sights on my next goal.


I want to be “too big to fail.”


Rick Horowitz is a syndicated columnist. You can write to him at rickhoro@execpc.com.

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