Jeffrey Cane

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Liddy’s Legacy

May 21, 2009

No doubt tired of being a human pinata for lawmakers and others angry over the implosion of the financial system, Edward Liddy has announced that he will step down as both chief executive and chairman of American International Group once the board finds a replacement.  (Or that should be replacements, as he has recommended splitting the jobs of C.E.O. and chairman.) The tenure of Liddy, who took charge after the September government bailout,  will be seen as a curious one.  He needed to lead the company away from the brink while defending it from fierce criticism  — of the bonuses and the fancy events for independent agents — that at times bordered on the irrational.  Until recently, a mob mentality had seized the nation, kicking a company that was down. And that is the one surprising thing about Liddy’s tenure. For someone who led a large consumer company, Allstate, and who was on the board of a financial firm, Goldman Sachs, that has for the most part  managed to avoid crowds of angry demonstrators, Liddy seemed strangely tone deaf to the public mood. His counterarguments and appeals after each fresh disclosure often came across as the weary grumblings of an old man who didn’t understand what all the fuss was about.  To a deeply suspicious public,  making a case that rebuilding A.I.G.  was in the national interest was always going to be a difficult one. And Liddy was not a persuasive personality.  In many other respects, he may well have been the right choice to lead A.I.G., but this job also called for someone with a better command of crisis spin control.

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