When Hank Greenberg decided to sue the U.S. government last year, alleging that its bailout of his old company, AIG, screwed shareholders out of approximately $23 billion, a lot of people reacted to the news with a resounding, "The fuck?" Not just because of the argument that the bailout was a gift to shareholders, who would've fared much worse if the feds had let the company fail, but because Greenberg was about to turn 90, an age at which some people assumed, wrongly, that Greenberg had mellowed. But mellowed he had not! To be fair, unlike the path some aging people take, wherein they become increasingly mean and irritable, Greenberg was simply remaining true to himself: a guy who's always been kind of a cranky dick, a consistency Bloomberg's Max Abelson explores today.
Trim and fit in his Park Avenue office this month, a waist-high hourglass across from his desk, he didn’t want to answer questions about the case, his company, himself or turning 90. “I was no different the night before, the day before, the week before, the month before,” Greenberg said. When asked if he’s mellowed with age, he set his jaw, locked his eyes straight ahead and said the interview should end. “You have no idea the things that I’m thinking about,” he said. “All I’m going to do next and the year after that and the year after that, that’s none of your business. You’ll see it when it happens.”
But don't just take this reporter's word for it. Here's a guy Greenberg busted out of an Iranian prison, who would rather spend an afternoon with his captors than HG:
Even that freed colleague calls Greenberg stubborn. “Hank is not an easy man to work for,” K.C. Shabani said this month while praising his drive. “Very rude to me, almost abrasive.”
Of course, even the meanest, harshest individuals among us have that one person who can make them look human. For Greenberg, that would be his dog.
Ernie Patrikis, general counsel for the New York Fed and then for AIG until 2006, said there’s a softer side to his former boss. He remembered Greenberg saying in a meeting that he was glum about his sick dog, Snowball. Then he ordered colleagues there not to share his feelings with others.